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Who governs America’s cities: organized interests or mass publics? Though recent scholarship finds that local governments enact policies that align with citizens’ preferences, others argue that it is organized interests, not mass publics that are influential. To reconcile these perspectives, we show that election timing can help shed light on when voters or groups will be pivotal in city politics. Examining 1,600 large US cities, we find that off-cycle elections affect city policy responsiveness asymmetrically, weakening responsiveness on those issues where there is an active and organized interest whose policy objectives deviate from the preferences of the median resident. Here, we focus on public employees’ interests and find that local governments that are elected off cycle spend more on city workers than would be preferred by citizens in more conservative cities. We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for the study of interest groups and representation in local politics.
Retrospective voting is vital for democracy. But, are the objective performance metrics widely thought to be relevant for retrospection—such as the performance of the economy, criminal justice system, and schools, to name a few—valid criteria for evaluating government performance? That is, do political coalitions actually have the power to influence the performance metrics used for retrospection on the timeline introduced by elections? Using difference-in-difference and regression discontinuity techniques, we find that US states governed by Democrats and those by Republicans perform equally well on economic, education, crime, family, social, environmental, and health outcomes on the timeline introduced by elections (2–4 years downstream). Our results suggest that voters may struggle to truly hold government coalitions accountable, as objective performance metrics appear to be largely out of the immediate control of political coalitions.
Most research on the causes of women's underrepresentation examines one of two stages of the political pipeline: the development of nascent political ambition or specific aspects of the campaign and election process. In this article, we make a different kind of contribution. We build on the growing literature on gender, psychology, and representation to provide an analysis of what kinds of men and women make it through the political pipeline at each stage. This allows us to draw some conclusions about the ways in which the overall process is similar and different for women and men. Using surveys of the general U.S. population (N = 1,939) and elected municipal officials such as mayors and city councilors (N = 2,354) that measure the distribution of Big Five personality traits, we find that roughly the same types of men and women have nascent political ambition; there is just an intercept shift for sex. In contrast, male and female elected officials have different personality profiles. These differences do not reflect underlying distributions in the general population or the population of political aspirants. In short, our data suggest that socialization into political ambition is similar for men and women, but campaign and election processes are not.
Previous research finds that House majority members and members in the president's party garner additional federal spending in their districts. Using federal spending data in individual districts, we implement two research designs to distinguish elected officials enacting policies that benefit like-minded voters—the party in the electorate—from those that benefit same-party elected officials—the party in government. We find robust evidence that presidential partisanship is associated with large differences in spending correlated with voter preferences, but little evidence that presidents favor areas represented by their party in the House. By contrast, control of the House is associated with differences in spending by voter preferences and with modest increases in spending in districts held by members of the majority. These findings have important implications for understanding presidential influence, as well as the role of parties in the House and in coordinating between elected branches.
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