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Is/Are All Politics Local?

  June 2018 / Vol 8 Issue 4

Is /Are All Politics Local?
By: Shayla Owens, Orion Strategies


Many have probably heard the phrase, “All politics is local,” coined by former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Tip O’Neil. It is a phrase that is viewed as controversial for many reasons. Firstly, because of the grammar usage pertaining to the verb “is” rather than “are” accompanying the noun “politics.” This four-word sentence seems to stump even those well-schooled in the nuances of subject-verb agreement, and overall, many complex arguments about its correct usage prevail.

The average person might not have the background needed to discern an argument about the correct way to use the verb “to be” in this situation, and they would be the majority. But perhaps they would argue, simply because of the way it sounds, that using “is” sounds more informal or slang, which has always been deemed the “inferior” or wrong way to use language. The spoken word is one of the biggest signifiers of group association next to biological makeup. Yet, language – whether spoken slang or written Standard English – has evolved from something else, and will continue to change over time, like the many other principal aspects that we so stringently base our relationships and group associations on such as religion, morals, culture, history, etc.

Perhaps the less obvious controversial part of that statement is the ideology itself. Is/are all politics local? And what does local entail in certain geological contexts among differing community types?.

In the United States, today’s presidential elections seem to focus on topics such as race, gender, abortion, immigration, same-sex marriage, or the role government plays in our lives. It is no secret that when a presidential candidate visits a state during campaign season, he or she tailors their speech to the political landscapes of a geographical boundary based on what is known about the population’s demographics well before entering into a community. More often than not, the conversation that locals in rural areas espouse has to do with any promise of economic opportunity or growth, especially when it boasts revitalizing a fading, yet romanticized industry. Urban voters on the other hand tend to be more concerned with the reduction of crime, affordable housing, and quality of education. However different, the majority of rural and urban dwellers can agree that outsiders do not understand the problems their local communities face, and unlike suburban dwellers, both rural and urban communities are more skeptical of outsider intentions.

The question is then, in the case of natural gas, is/are all politics local? The answer is yes and no. And, when they are local, they are very local and vary from one community to the next. When attempting to build a relationship with a local community, it is important for a company to consider all the messages it is sending and whether or not those messages are appropriate for a specific audience in a specific area – rural Ohio is not the same as rural West Virginia just as an Ohio republican/democrat is not the same as a West Virginia republican/democrat.

In order to know if the message is right, the company has to know more than just the political lay of the land, it has to also consider the cultural values, the socioeconomics, and the labor history of the local people that intertwines with the geological landscape. It also has to consider how its industry’s presence may be interpreted alongside those differing narratives surrounding each local community in each state throughout a region.

As far as natural gas goes, it is no secret that the Appalachian region of the United States is booming with operations, operations that are predicted to increase for decades. This is a region that has historically been known for its upstream energy development among other related midstream and downstream industries and a place that takes much pride in the powering and building of the United States of America as we know it today. Understandably, this is a region that has built much of its own identities and written its own cultural narratives around its labor history.

In some parts of West Virginia, there is an ever-present nostalgia surrounding coal, especially in the rural southern counties. In Pennsylvania and in the urban metropolis of Pittsburgh, there is a strong history of steel; the mayor of Pittsburgh will tell you that his “Steel City” built the nation. And, in Ohio there are once flourishing suburban areas that have experienced the boom-bust nature of industry, where the closing or relocating of a local mill or factory left whole towns out of a job and waiting on the next opportunity to come knocking. Yet, these are the states that have been blessed with the most plentiful shale basins in the world. Some industries have had a lesser hold than others in their decline among varying communities in these states. For example, the city of Pittsburgh is fully embracing a shift to advancements in technology, while surrounding counties are taking advantage of natural gas development.

In West Virginia, where many politicians keep the promise of coal jobs at the top of their campaign pledge list, it is hard for the communities that have experienced the prosperity of that industry to envision a state supporting a competing energy industry and relinquishing its dependence on coal. However, this mindset does not apply to the whole of West Virginia, just like not every place in Ohio or Pennsylvania feels the same way about the bygone industries that have come to define those states. When it comes down to it, natural gas politics (views and expectations of the industry) will change, sometimes drastically and depending on the state, but even more so on a local level from zip code to zip code.

For these reasons, it is important for any gas company to do background research on a community’s labor history, socioeconomics, and political partisanships before operations take place. On a state level, it is important to be familiar with the overarching labor legacies for which people yearn and the potential for hyper-regulated policy for certain industries, which simply might be reflective of outdated state policy. At a local level, it is important to discern the community type – whether a place is deemed urban, suburban, or rural – in determining the level and strategy of communication and community outreach that will be needed to form a strong, flourishing relationship with the residents of each community. In some instances, talk of jobs and statistics representing economic impact may be enough while in other areas, sizeable philanthropic projects may be necessary. Overall, it is important for any gas company to do their research into local “politics” before any strategic communications and community outreach plans are formed and implemented alongside natural gas development.

For more information, contact Shayla Owens at 304-982-6050 x107 or