Local Governance

A local government that is attentive to the needs of all of its citizens and a citizenry deeply engaged in community-wide decisionmaking are hallmarks of a community that supports its residents’ upward mobility. A responsive local government empowers its citizens by ensuring their concerns are addressed, and as a result, residents feel valued in and by their larger communities. By allocating local resources equitably, local governments can help ensure all residents have good prospects for economic success.

To see more information about these predictors, see our updated report, Boosting Upward Mobility: Metrics to Inform Local Action, Second Edition. For more insight into the decisions behind updates to the predictors and metrics, see that paper’s accompanying Technical Report.


Political Participation

Descriptive Representation



Political Participation

Political participation takes many forms, such as whether voting-eligible individuals vote in elections. Political participation can reflect a voter’s own sense of power and autonomy, sense of well-being, self-rated health, and political representation. For example, people living in states with low voter turnout are far more likely to report being in fair or poor health than people in states with high voter turnout. Other research found that individuals reporting greater political participation scored higher on self-rated indices of empowerment.

Metric: Share of the voting-eligible population who turn out to vote

This metric measures the share of the voting-eligible population that voted in the local election in a year with a presidential election.

Validity: This metric is well established. Scholars of political science have used this metric in articles published in peer-reviewed journals.

Availability: Data are reported out by local governments and are available to the public.

Frequency: New data for the metric are available at election cycles.

Geography: Data are broadly available at the electoral district level.

Consistency: Voter turnout is measured consistently over time and geography, but the values can be volatile from year to year, with higher turnouts in years involving a presidential election, so we focus our metric to occur during presidential elections.

Subgroups: Voter turnout by race or ethnicity within a jurisdiction can be measured using different methods depending on the demographic balance of the jurisdiction. For diverse or integrated communities, ecological inference or rows by column inference is preferred. For less diverse or highly segregated communities, homogenous precinct analysis is preferred. Each is based on the census-defined racial and ethnic characteristics of the jurisdiction.

Limitations: Residential mobility can affect this metric, so it is important to interpret changes in voter turnout in the context of demographic shifts in the jurisdiction. In local communities with higher rates of immigrants, voter turnout can inaccurately reflect a community’s political participation. Communities with a population of immigrants who are not registered to vote could consider additional local data to better assess political participation and civic engagement.

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Descriptive Representation

Having local elected officials whose demographic characteristics (i.e., gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation) broadly reflect those of their constituents correlates with greater feelings of political influence and engagement among otherwise underrepresented demographic groups. Research demonstrates that Black individuals who are represented by Black elected officials in Congress are more likely to be interested in and to vote in a House election and to disagree with the notion that they do not have a say in what government does.

Metric: The ratio of the share of the city council or county board from specific racial and ethnic groups to the share of city or county residents from those racial or ethnic groups

This metric measures the ratio of the share of the city council or county board from specific racial and ethnic groups to the share of city or county residents from those racial or ethnic groups.

Validity: Scholars of political science have used this metric in articles published in peer-reviewed journals.

Availability: Data on the racial or ethnic characteristics of city council or county boards can be collected locally either from public comments or campaign materials released by officials or directly from the local elected officials themselves. The racial and ethnic composition of residents in those districts can be calculated using data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Frequency: This metric can be updated as frequently as elections occur.

Geography: This metric can be calculated at the city or county level.

Consistency: This metric can be calculated the same way over time.

Subgroups: This metric accounts for race within its definition, but it may also be calculated for other subgroups.

Limitations: Although the movement of people in and out of the jurisdiction can influence this metric, it is likely to be far more sensitive to shifts in the composition of elected officials in the short term. Collecting information on the demographic characteristics of a local official may be challenging if they do not reveal this information publicly and are unwilling to report it to local data collectors.

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