Representation and Accountability in Cities
Posted: 14 Oct 2010
Date Written: June 2010
Local governments in the United States provide essential services and allocate an enormous share of the country's public goods. Knowing how benefits are distributed and who wins and who loses in American politics requires understanding the functioning of local representative democracy. Pitkin (1967) delineates three components to democratic representation — authorization, responsiveness, and accountability. Elections play a fundamental role in each of these processes, from selecting government officials, to influencing the policies governments choose, to holding representatives accountable for outcomes. Scholars of local politics have tended toward two themes in analyzing the link between elections and representation: exploring the role of race and ethnicity, and understanding how institutions shape both practices and outcomes. Racial and ethnic divisions are prominent in local politics and shape both voting decisions and policy outcomes. Institutions implemented by municipal reformers tend to decrease the visibility of politics and in some situations advantage white, middle/upper-class residents. This review presents the research on both themes, discussing each of Pitkin's components of representation in turn, with the goal of summarizing what we know and what we still need to learn.
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