Monday, October 29, 2007

Downsian convergence at the local level?

Here's an interesting article. Two economists, Ferreira and Gyourko, looked at a large sample of cities in which the Democratic candidate for mayor had either won or lost by a narrow margin. Then they looked to see if there were important differences in the policies those cities produced. They found none, suggesting that parties really don't matter all that much locally. Electoral competition fosters convergence, running counter to evidence gathered at the state and national level.

This is a pretty interesting and surprising finding, and it might actually be true, but there are a few rather glaring omissions:

1) They don't differentiate between cities with partisan elections and those with nonpartisan elections. (I'm guessing there'd be a much bigger party effect on policy in the partisan election cities.) Shockingly, they were aware of this distinction and just tried to find out the mayor's party affiliation anyway, sometimes using party registration records. Footnote 14 bizarrely suggests that L.A. functionally has partisan elections. (Hahn v. Villaraigosa? And just how many voters knew Riordan was a Republican?)

2) They don't incorporate mayoral strength into their calculations. A weak Republican mayor working with a strong Democratic city council just isn't going to cut city services all that much.


lidzville said...

We're all hacks here in lidzville, not political scientists, so I'm talking way over my head here. But this is pretty fascinating. I'd be curious to know if they compared races in cities with similar forms of administration -- I've lived places where city council elections were way more important than mayoral races, for example. And I'd be curious if they looked at multi-party affects. I've lived places where local politics was where the greens, libertarians, Christian conservatives, saw an affordable way to get into the game, and had a big influence. The Missoula, Montana mayors race, for example, often looks like something you'd see in Italy.

lidzville said...

effects. We don't have copy editors in lidzville; we outsource to Monster Island.