After some elections, we learn the results right away. For others, we’re stuck waiting for weeks through recounts and court hearings. But no matter what kind of campaign it is, we never really know what happened until states across the country update their voter rolls and organizers are able to understand exactly how their work influenced the electorate. 

This month, Run for Something is sharing some of their analysis, which shows that progressives need to pay a lot more attention to local races. 

They looked at votes in 3,953 precincts within 61 counties across Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, and Texas. They compared state legislative districts where Republicans were running uncontested against districts where Republicans and Democrats were both on the ballot. 

They found that merely contesting the state legislative race provided anywhere from a 0.3 percent to 1.5 percent boost for Biden — even in places where the Democrat didn’t win the district. In other words, in 2020 — during the most intense presidential election of our lives — support for Democratic candidates flowed upward from the local race to the top of the ticket. 

Now 2020 was a unique year, and the authors of this research point out that there needs to be more of this analysis of this phenomenon from past elections. We don’t know about the impact on top-of-the-ticket races that don’t include the presidential campaign. But if the effect holds true in the future, we all have some work to do. 

Because the truth is, our organizing infrastructure isn’t set up to capitalize on this kind of insight. Progressive donors — both large dollar and small— fixate on high-profile federal races. Coordinated tables focus on statewide outcomes. State and county Democratic parties are woefully under-resourced. And there’s nowhere near enough capacity to recruit, train, and support local candidates. 

But there is a bright side. 

Because budgets are smaller, when we invest in races closer to the ground, our dollars go further. Our time can produce a bigger impact. And that’s true whether we’re talking about individual activists, c4 groups, or the national party committees. 

So we can close this gap in a hurry. Just as long as we recognize that these local races must be our priority going forward.

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