City elections mean more when more people vote. Elected officials pay more attention to a wider variety of residents as turnouts increase.
Low turnouts anywhere can change the emphasis elected officials take once in office, said Aaron Weinschenk, a political scientist at the UW-Green Bay and co-author of the 2013 study by the Western Political Science Association.
“In some cities, turnout is at or below 10%. With a number that low … it’s very likely that those who turn out will have different attributes and preferences than the population at large, [such as being] more educated, wealthy, older, etcetera,” Weinschenk said by email last week. “Thus, low rates of citizen engagement can lead to biases in representation and policymaking.”
Weinschenk also disputes claims that lumping local elections in with state and federal results in additional votes cast by residents less knowledgeable about local issues. “Voters can actually make pretty good decisions with small amounts of information,” he said. “For example, they can use things like partisanship or incumbency status to assess whether a candidate is likely to align with their preferences.”