A voter approaching an election polling place station during a United States election.

Local Issues Drive State Elections

Of the 99 state legislative chambers in the U.S., 86 will hold elections in November. The outcome of these races, along with the 12 gubernatorial races, will have an immense impact on the commercial real estate industry – not to mention the many families and communities within those states. These races will be determined and won based on voter turnout. So, what will drive voters to the polls in 2016?

Historically, one would think that the 2016 presidential election and national issues – such as terrorism, foreign affairs or the economy – would be instrumental in turning out the vote that would ultimately influence down-ticket races at the state level. However, the strong anti-establishment or anti-Washington sentiment this year trims these “national coattails.” In addition, the distinction by the electorate between presidential and federal elections and state elections is growing, and has been particularly pronounced over the last eight years of the Obama administration. During this period, the Republican Party has won nearly 900 new state legislative seats, and has flipped 32 state legislative chambers to control 66 of 99 legislative chambers.

Furthermore, a recent Governing Magazine article studied the strength of state economies based on various economic indicators from the U.S. Department of Labor and its corresponding relationship with the current governor’s popularity. The top 10 states based on economic performance under Governing’s study are:

  1. Massachusetts.
  2. Oregon.
  3. Delaware.
  4. Colorado.
  5. California.
  6. Tennessee.
  7. New Hampshire.
  8. Utah.
  9. Virginia.
  10. Maryland.

While many of the top 10 states are traditionally blue or purple states that have voted for the Democrat presidential candidate in recent elections, with the exception of Tennessee, the most popular governors of these states as cited in the article are Republicans: Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, and Larry Hogan in Maryland.

What, then, will drive or motivate the electorate to vote in state elections in 2016? The answer is clear: those “kitchen table” issues that are closer to home regardless of the national debate. A few of these issues may include economic security, public safety, social concerns, education, affordable housing, tax reform and the environment, along with many other local, state and regional challenges. For example, while the controversial “bathroom” bill in North Carolina has gained national attention, it is a state-specific issue that will drive many North Carolinians to the polls and influence their decision as they cast their vote for governor and their state legislator.

From purely a political perspective, voter confidence in the economy and job security is an election-year issue in every state. Commercial real estate provides the office, retail, mixed-use and industrial space for business and communities to thrive and prosper – and drives economic growth and job creation. Because of this, NAIOP member engagement and advocacy on behalf of the interest of commercial and industrial properties can have an impact on the elections and the development of public policies because candidates realize the importance of a strong economy to their future.

The federal government can influence these issues at the state level; unfortunately, meaningful legislation, such as the bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy bill supported by NAIOP, falls victim to political – not policy – disagreements that delays and thwarts its passage. Until this improves, some may argue that state issues will be the electoral driver on Election Day. Irrespective of this, there is a growing distinction between state issues and national issues with each impacting the other less at the ballot box.

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