Research on Main Street

Tips for Finding Insights Into Local Politics

In my book, some of the most talented researchers in the business contributed their Tips from the Pros. This tip from Monnie Nilsson is explores the intricacies of researching local politics – a topic that’s especially relevant during this election season in the U.S.

Who Has Jurisdiction for a Political Issue?
Monnie Nilsson, The Denver Post

All politics is local.”  —Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill, Jr., former Speaker of the House, quoting his late father.

Researching local politics can be tricky. Politics at this level is unique because it’s largely subnational, yet it’s subordinate to higher-level governing bodies. This means that federal and state laws regulate many things that take place at the local level. In those instances, researching a political issue usually means gathering information from state and national resources.

However, local governing bodies retain jurisdiction over a broad range of other issues that impact local life and shape the local political landscape, such as economic development, traffic patterns, and zoning. To effectively research local politics, you must first know who has jurisdiction over the issue you’re studying. A zoning- related political issue could be handled at the federal, state, or local level—or by a combination of governmental entities.

So how can you find out which level or levels have jurisdiction over the specific issue you’re researching? A governing body’s website usually offers insight into an issue’s governing process, pinpoints facts and fallacies, and occasionally serves up a list of political players. It’s a good place to start.

I recommend going to State and Local Government on the Net, a directory of links to specific state, regional, county, city, and town governing bodies. Here you can pinpoint local decision-making entities and their structures. You may learn that decision making resides at the national level or outside a formal government entity altogether—perhaps with a nonprofit, economic, or religious organization.

Other research resources for local political issues include the following:

  • Local (city/town/neighborhood) newspapers: They cover local politics with greater range and depth than most major newspapers can.
  • State representatives’ individual websites: Here you’ll often find insight into local issues and concerns. State representatives tend to be responsive to their local constituents’ concerns, and they like to advertise that fact.
  • City council websites and meeting minutes: Land use, traffic problems, and city budget issues often incubate locally prior to becoming news stories. Most meeting minutes can be obtained online.
  • Cyburbia Forums: These electronic discussions offer a broad perspective on current problems and solutions on a range of local government issues, many in the areas of urban planning, economic development, sustainability, zoning, and budgeting.
  • Stateline: This site compiles state-oriented news and opinion about various political issues, many of which originate at the local level.


About Marcy Phelps

Marcy Phelps is the president of Phelps Research (, which provides market analysis for strategic business decisions. She blogs about turning information into insights at She is the author of Research on Main Street: Using the Web to Find Local Business and Market Information. Follow Marcy on Twitter (@marcyphelps) and LinkedIn (

, , , , , ,