All politics is local politics.– Hon. Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill
Politics in a democracy revolves around the decisions of individual citizens, but individual citizens make their choices at particular times and places, located in multiple environments operating at a variety of levels. In this way the reality of a national election is played out in countless specific locations across the nation, and the behavior of individual voters is often best understood within these subnational locales. In keeping with such a perspective we have undertaken a study of voters and democratic elections at a particular time in a particular place: the 1984 presidential election as it occurred in the South Bend, Indiana, metropolitan area.
Voters in South Bend experienced the national spectacle of an election campaign during 1984, and, like all elections, the 1984 election was not a matter of individual choice for South Bend voters. It took place whether they desired it or not. Many South Bend residents would have preferred to spend their idle mental moments musing about the Cubs' pennant hopes, organizing next spring's garden, or planning sailing trips on Lake Michigan. Regardless of their own preferences, however, an election was taking place, and elections alter the lives of citizens who value democracy. Indeed, even citizens who do not take democratic responsibilities seriously are unable to avoid the altered environment of an election campaign: Dan Rather, the South Bend Tribune, bumper stickers, yard signs, party workers, candidate mailings, and informal discussions all served as inescapable reminders for South Bend residents.