Online First: Pushing the City Limits Policy Responsiveness in Municipal Government

Pushing the City Limits

Policy Responsiveness in Municipal Government

  1. Katherine Levine Einstein1
  2. Vladimir Kogan2

  1. 1Boston University, Boston, MA, USA

  2. 2Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA
  1. Katherine Levine Einstein, Department of Political Science, Boston University, 232 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215, USA. Email:


Are city governments capable of responding to the preferences of their constituents? Or is the menu of policy options determined by forces beyond their direct control? We answer these questions using a comprehensive cross-sectional database linking voter preferences to local policy outcomes in more than 2,000 midsize cities and a new panel covering cities in two states. Overall, our analysis paints an encouraging picture of democracy in the city: We document substantial variation in local fiscal policy outcomes and provide evidence that voter preferences help explain why cities adopt different policies. As they become more Democratic, cities increase their spending across a number of service areas. In addition, voter sentiment shapes the other side of the ledger, determining the level and precise mix of revenues on which cities rely. In short, we show that cities respond both to competitive pressures and the needs and wants of their constituents.

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