Inequalities in Participation, Voting, and Representation in Local Governments

Awarded Scholars:
Christopher Warshaw , George Washington University
John Sides, Vanderbilt University
Project Date:
Nov 2019
Award Amount:
$119,475
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

There are nearly 90,000 local governments in the U.S., with hundreds of thousands of locally elected officials in city, county and other types of local governments. Some research finds that local governments are responsive to the views of their citizens across many policy areas and that citizens' preferences have large effects on policy outcomes. The literature also suggests that the affluent and homeowners are over-represented relative to the poor and racial minorities. However, scholars have little systematic knowledge about inequalities in participation and representation at the local level due to the paucity of data.

Christopher Warshaw and John Sides will carry out a comprehensive, large-scale examination of inequalities in local politics by fielding a national public opinion survey on preferences and voting behavior in local elections. They have several main goals. First, they will examine inequalities in voters' participation in local politics, knowledge about local candidates and elected officials, preferences on local policy issues and how inequalities might vary across institutional configurations. Second, they will try to understand how voters make choices in local elections, what cues or information they use, and how information use varies across social groups. They will then explore accountability in local politics, examining whether local elected officials are held accountable for the quality of life in local communities, including factors such as crime, unemployment, and school performance. Finally, they will examine inequalities in representation and in policy responsiveness across groups. Are the preferred candidates of specific groups more likely to win, and are policies more likely to represent the interests of those groups?

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