State Policy Network
Laboratories of Democracy: citizens have an appetite for local decision-making

Over the last century, Washington has slowly shifted the balance of power away from the states and towards a centralized federal government. Federal laws increasingly impact wide expanses of the country—the Founders likely never imagined the public affairs of local communities would one day be governed from federal buildings hundreds of miles away.   

While the federal government continues the march toward a centralized government, American voters still see a clear benefit in having local laws that reflect the needs, wants and priorities of people in individual states. Fewer than one-third of voters want to see universal laws govern our country. Nearly twice as many, 60%, believe in the American concept of democracy that reserves most of the law-making responsibility to individual states.

With large gaps between Republicans and Democrats, you might think red and blue states are polarized on the issue.  However, even in the most politically one-sided states, a majority of voters favor a “laboratory of democracy” approach which allows states to work on the novel solutions to issues that impact community prosperity. Furthermore, 66% of voters nationwide oppose splitting the nation up into smaller factions where there is more political agreement, including 61% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans.

Americans clearly see the benefits of our national union, but nevertheless agree that localized lawmaking, such as at the state level, is best for the people.

The people of the United States clearly have an appetite for more localized policymaking, but the nationally focused news-cycle doesn’t always keep people informed of what’s already happening in their states. This often serves to keep even the most interested citizens from participating at the state and local level. Fortunately, this is where the 50-state Network can serve a vital role. One of the most obvious ways our Network can help drive this desire for local governance is by highlighting what states are doing, and the opportunities citizens have to engage with local policymaking.

But this goes beyond just updating citizens about state and local happenings. SPN’s Executive Vice President Tony Woodlief explains in his book, I, Citizen, that “restoring authority to states and communities isn’t just about restaging DC battles closer to home. It’s about doing government differently, deliberatively, and with an aim towards greater understanding, consensus, and compassion.”

Washington politics is defined by partisan bickering and proving that the other side is “worse,” rather than by solutions and collaboration. This Network is uniquely positioned to help the American people “do government differently” within the states. Our Network is made up of experts within numerous policy areas and has relationships with policymakers in every state. But most importantly, our Network’s think tanks and their staff live and work in the communities they serve, not in Washington, DC. By being solution-oriented, compassionate, and willing to listen, our Network can serve as an example of what better government looks like and can provide the citizens of the United States with a greater understanding of how a focus on the local can inform the greatest impact.

Want to learn more about how you can help our states “do politics differently?” Check out I, Citizen: A Blueprint for Reclaiming American Self-Governance. It details how our national politics became so divisive, highlights evidence that Americans are more united than the political elites make it seem, and offers practical advice for how this Network can help the American people unite around our shared passion for localized government in the laboratories of democracy.

Organization: State Policy Network