How to Follow Your Congressional and Local Elections in 2022 — ProPublica

Election coverage often focuses on competition between rival candidates while downplaying politics and platforms. But knowing how to decipher these “horse racing” stories can help you understand what’s at stake for you and can inform your political involvement.

Think of it this way: The campaigns themselves are constantly monitoring certain signals — polls, fundraising totals, public opinion — to understand what’s going on in their races. They adjust their tactics accordingly. You also have the power to customize your actions. Here are a few questions to ask.

How competitive is your convention district?

Today we’re going to focus on your district’s candidates for the House of Representatives using a tool called the Cook Political Report.

The Cook Political Report is a bipartisan newsletter that analyzes federal campaigns and elections to weigh the likelihood of your current representative holding his seat versus the chances of a challenger defeating him. Its authors observe polls, track fundraising and external spending, and talk to the campaigns and candidates. Then they assign a score to the competitiveness of each race:

  • Solid (Republican or Democrat): These races are not considered competitive and probably will not be.
  • Likely (Republican or Democrat): These races are not considered competitive at this point but could intensify.
  • Lean (Republican or Democrat): These are considered competitive races, but one side has an advantage.
  • Toss Up: These are the most competitive; Each party has a good chance of winning.

However, these ratings are updated frequently based on what is happening along the campaign trail. Want to know if the outlook is changing in your district? You can visit the Cook Political Report website.

Where does the campaign money come from?

Political organizations and nonprofit committees have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to influence elections, so candidates’ campaign finances are another revealing metric. Where do they get all that money and how do they spend it?

One number that can help you determine the strength of a campaign is the Percentage of funds raised by PACs, or political action committees. A PAC is a collection of people who have pooled their money to donate to candidates. The best-funded PACs are corporations and advocacy groups—the NRA, Planned Parenthood, and unions all have PACs—but they can also be funded by civic activists who are not political actors.

A reliance on PACs versus individual donors can tell you something about how much the candidate is benefiting institutional support versus basic support. A higher percentage of funds from PACs means that a candidate’s donor money comes primarily in rather large checks, as opposed to donations from individuals. A higher percentage of individual donations, on the other hand, is a sign of grassroots enthusiasm for the campaign.

Federal candidates are required to submit regular data on their fundraising and spending to the Federal Electoral Commission, the agency that enforces campaign finance law. This makes it easier to get a glimpse into this universe.

Most campaigns submit quarterly reports on April 15, July 15, October 15, and January 15. So the numbers here give you a snapshot of money raised and spent over a three-month window. To begin with, let’s look at each other specifically Campaign Donations.

Campaigns need money to spread their messages; It is expensive to buy advertising and organize rallies, town meetings and other campaign activities. Most political donations sound like a LOT of money to me – and probably to you too. For example, hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into the Pennsylvania Senate race so far, according to OpenSecrets. So how do you know what these numbers mean?

This is where the leaderboards come in: more competitive races usually attract more money. You can also look at the money gap between two candidates. When a candidate is on the lower end of the fundraising scale, especially against a well-funded competitor, it usually indicates their odds aren’t great. But there are exceptions. In 2018, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley to 10 terms in her elementary school despite a large fundraising gap. In 2020, Rep. Cori Bush defeated 20-year-old (and highly funded) incumbent Congressman William Lacy Clay in a major upset. So, if your candidate of choice spends too much, don’t count them out.

Check your local races

There’s only so much ProPublica can track with our data on federal candidates, but the League of Women Voters has a wealth of candidate information down to your ballot. The League is non-partisan and works to empower citizens with the information they need to vote with confidence.

For its project, the league approached each candidate running for local and state office and asked them a series of identical questions, such as:

  • What experiences qualify you to represent the citizens living in your district?
  • What would be your top three priorities if elected?
  • How will you work to improve employment opportunities for your constituents?

Typically, because the League is such a well-known and respected source of voters, the majority of candidates actually answer these questions in their own words. This year, however, a growing number of Republican candidates are refusing to participate in league activities because they claim they are biased against Republicans, our reporter Megan O’Matz reported earlier this election season. However, the Vote411 voter guides can still help you learn about candidates and their positions, as well as all electoral activities in your area.

Another resource, Ballotpedia, also has a tool to help you understand what you’re voting for, especially at the local level. Enter your address and receive information on all candidates and electoral initiatives on which you have a say in the elections.

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