With city elections on the horizon, survey says: ‘Decisions are made by those who show up’

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As I look at what 2019 could bring, I think about the one thing that it will bring – and that thing is the Manchester city elections. Every two years, (on the odd numbered year), we get to cast our vote for mayor, aldermen, and the school board reps who will shape our city over the following two years (so this bunch will be elected in 2019 and serve 2020-2022).

I often talk to people about voting, elections, and how they affect the city that I love and think about the famous quote, “Decisions are made by those who show up,” (Aaron Sorkin) because the conversation is usually with either someone who is uninformed or someone who just doesn’t care about how our city is run. (Many see politics as the same from the White House and Congress to the state level to the city. “It’s all the same” is the typical phrase that I hear).

One can simply chalk-up such conversations as people being apathetic. But are they? Is it apathy caused by people not caring or is it a disconnect caused by people not feeling represented? I contemplated that question and looked up some stats.

The 2017 city elections had a pretty good turnout, (compared to the numbers that I’ve seen from previous years). The 2017 turnout was 40.8 percent, which was the highest turnout since 1999. Looking at that number, my first reaction was that it was pretty high, but in reality it could be a lot better. The fact that it was the highest turnout in 18 years shows that we are not voting; that less than half of the registered voters elected our officials (who make decisions that affect all of us). Considering that many of the results have “blank” listed instead of a candidate choice or write-in means that even fewer people actually elected the officials.

Mayor Joyce Craig heading to the polls to vote in Manchester on Election Day 2017. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Another way to look at it is that there were 55,904 registered voters in Manchester at the time of the 2017 city elections, so only 21.59 percent of them actually elected Mayor Craig. (This is in no way meant to diminish her victory, it just shows that a low number of voters actually elect our officials).

I decided to conduct a poll so I created one using SurveyMonkey. I posted the poll on my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts as well as emailed or texted the survey to some of my contacts. I wanted to get an unscientific but true sampling of how people feel about the representation that they receive. I also spoke to 20 people at random and asked them if they believed that their elected officials represent them. The 20 people that I spoke with can be considered “everyday working people” who were at places that my family and I frequent, such as Walmart, Aldi, and Cumberland Farms (mostly retail and some people at local restaurants). This was intentional because I wanted to get a small sampling of how people – who are not typical of who one generally sees working on a campaign – feel about their elected officials.

Of the people that I randomly asked, an alarming 65 percent (13 of the 20) said that they do not believe their elected officials represent them. Granted, 14 of the people told me that they did not vote in the 2017 elections. When asked why they chose not to vote, most of them said that it didn’t matter. The results on the printed poll were a little different but still not great. In this small sampling, 16 people responded. The results were as follows: 15 (93.75 percent) are registered to vote and 13 of the 15 voted, (86.67 percent).

View of the city from Rock Rimmon. Photo/Ken Gallager, Wikipedia

The reasons for not voting were either that the candidates were not being relevant to them or that the voter did not know enough about the candidate. I ask myself why this is – is it because the candidates aren’t meeting the people or if the candidate is an incumbent, do they only come around during election time? When asked why respondents weren’t registered to vote, one respondent wrote: “Politics is downstream from culture.” This statement may seem extreme to some, but it is an example of the apathy among some people. There are those who don’t feel represented, in the case of the survey, 9 (56.25 percent) stated that they do not. This number is better than my in-person poll, but is still not good. The last question on the poll asked if the respondents plan to vote this year and 15 (93.75 percent) stated that they do. This is good and it is my hope that everyone is able to make an informed choice.

In closing I will say that these were very informal, non-scientific surveys and used a small sampling of the population of our city. However, the results do lead me to want to dig a little deeper because there are reasons for the apathy and feelings of non-representation. My feeling toward city politics and representation may be different because I personally make it a point to know what is going on in the city that I love and know who the players are as well as to keep in contact with them. I attend meetings and also do the “geek” thing by watching the meetings on public access. (All open meetings are recorded and available for free via public access television. There is also a channel on Vimeo if one wants to watch the videos from the website or app).

I will also say that Mayor Craig and the aldermen are available to the people of the city, regardless of who one is or who they voted for. (And some of them regularly post on social media, particularly Instagram). Mayor Craig holds Community Office Hours throughout our city and several aldermen and school board reps host ward meetings for their constituents. I also regularly see Mayor Craig as well as several of the aldermen out and about and at various events in our city and they often stop and talk.

Everyone has a different experience with their alderman as well as with various elected officials in our city, and the fact is that there are people who do not feel represented, and very well may not be as represented as they could be. But if we get involved and inform ourselves we can better impact our city elections and keep our city moving forward.

I have re-opened the survey, so if you would like to take it, please click here. I will post updated results in my next article. Thank you!      

Brian Chicoine is a New Hampshire native who has come home after spending several years living in Providence, Rhode Island. Brian and his family are excited to be back in Manchester and are focused on contributing to their community. Brian is the founder of Manchester Forward, a group that is dedicated to celebrating our city, honoring its history, and advocating for its smart growth. Brian merges his life experiences with his passions for innovation and community to develop his articles. Brian and his family live on the West Side. Brian can be reached via email at brian.chicoine@outlook.com.