Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1122422
 
 

Citations (5)



 
 

Footnotes (190)



 


 



Why is There No Partisan Competition in City Council Elections? The Role of Election Law


David Schleicher


George Mason University School of Law

April 18, 2008

Journal of Law and Politics, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 419-473, Fall 2007
George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 08-42

Abstract:     
Despite the attention given to the anticompetitive effects of gerrymandering on national and state elections, little notice is paid to the least competitive legislative elections in America: its city council elections. In cities with partisan elections, individual competitive seats are rarer than at the national level and there is almost never competition for partisan control of councils. Nonpartisan city council elections are even worse, with virtually undefeatable incumbents and no policy competition of any kind. The dominant explanation in the political science literature for this phenomenon is that the lack of partisan competition in local elections is a result of the issues at play in local politics. Local politics, the argument goes, is not ideological - it is only about the competence with which public goods are provided and the allocation of these goods to different groups. This claim cannot stand up to scrutiny. Debates over issues like policing strategy and urban development are ideological, and voters do have beliefs about them, but there is still no partisan competition.

This paper argues that the explanation for the lack of partisan competition in city council elections lies in the laws governing these elections. Several laws - by my definition "unitary party rules" - serve to ensure that the national parties are on the ballot in local elections and that candidates, activists and voters do not defect from dominant national parties during local elections. When combined with the little information available about individual council candidates, the existence of the national party heuristic on local ballots crowds out other information and the laws create severe barriers to entry for potential local parties. The result is that the vote in city council elections directly tracks the vote in national elections, despite strong empirical evidence that voters have very different beliefs about local and national issues. In cities in which one party dominates at the national level, there is no competition. Thus, local legislatures are extremely unrepresentative of voter preferences and have little democratic legitimacy. Repealing the unitary party rules would spur a rearrangement of the two-party system at the local level and create party competition at the local level.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 56

Keywords: Local Elections, Election Law, Political Parties, Law & Democracy, Politics as Markets, Local Government, City Council, Electoral Competition

Accepted Paper Series


Download This Paper

Date posted: April 21, 2008 ; Last revised: July 15, 2008

Suggested Citation

Schleicher, David, Why is There No Partisan Competition in City Council Elections? The Role of Election Law (April 18, 2008). Journal of Law and Politics, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 419-473, Fall 2007; George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 08-42. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1122422

Contact Information

David Schleicher (Contact Author)
George Mason University School of Law ( email )
3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States
Feedback to SSRN


Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 5,317
Downloads: 673
Download Rank: 19,276
Citations:  5
Footnotes:  190

© 2014 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  FAQ   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy   Copyright   Contact Us
This page was processed by apollo8 in 0.313 seconds