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Local Elections and the Politics of Small-Scale Democracy
J. Eric Oliver
With Shang E. Ha & Zachary Callen

Winner of the 2013 Best Book Award, Urban Politics Organized Section of the American Political Science Association

Paperback | 2012 | $37.50 | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780691143569
240 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 15 line illus. 14 tables.
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Local government is the hidden leviathan of American politics: it accounts for nearly a tenth of gross domestic product, it collects nearly as much in taxes as the federal government, and its decisions have an enormous impact on Americans' daily lives. Yet political scientists have few explanations for how people vote in local elections, particularly in the smaller cities, towns, and suburbs where most Americans live. Drawing on a wide variety of data sources and case studies, this book offers the first comprehensive analysis of electoral politics in America's municipalities.

Arguing that current explanations of voting behavior are ill suited for most local contests, Eric Oliver puts forward a new theory that highlights the crucial differences between local, state, and national democracies. Being small in size, limited in power, and largely unbiased in distributing their resources, local governments are "managerial democracies" with a distinct style of electoral politics. Instead of hinging on the partisanship, ideology, and group appeals that define national and state elections, local elections are based on the custodial performance of civic-oriented leaders and on their personal connections to voters with similarly deep community ties. Explaining not only the dynamics of local elections, Oliver's findings also upend many long-held assumptions about community power and local governance, including the importance of voter turnout and the possibilities for grassroots political change.


"This study takes a modest step toward filling a vast hole in the systematic investigation of local elections in the U.S."--Choice


"Eric Oliver's masterful study turns our gaze away from the national limelight to the quiet, steady politics of local governments. City councils, mayors, and school committees, he rightly points out, are every bit as important as the Congress and president in making American government, but they are subjects we academics have largely ignored for the better part of three decades. Oliver uncovers a healthy and vibrant system of democracy in local U. S. politics. For those worried about the partisan divisions and gridlock that have torn through our national politics, Local Elections and the Politics of Small-Scale Democracy offers a strong message of reassurance."--Stephen Ansolabehere, Harvard University

"Literally tens of thousands of local elections take place in this country each year, and millions of people participate in them. Yet until now, no scholarly book has grappled with the unique characteristics of these elections. I strongly predict that this book will change the direction of the study of local government and become part of the core literature on electoral politics more generally."--Elisabeth R. Gerber, author of The Populist Paradox

"Oliver argues that local elections are relatively low key. There are few divisive issues, incumbents are mostly reelected by satisfied voters, and while turnout is low, we needn't be particularly worried about this tendency. This argument is provocative and makes a number of very important contributions to the literatures on elections and local politics. Oliver's book is likely to be widely read and cited."--Jessica Trounstine, author of Political Monopolies in American Cities

Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
Chapter 1 Size, Scope, and Bias: What Differentiates
Local Electoral Politics? 12
Chapter 2 Who Votes in Local Elections? 53
Chapter 3 Who Runs for Local Office? 87
Chapter 4 Systematic versus Idiosyncratic Factors in Local Elections 116
Chapter 5 What Influences Local Voters’
Electoral Choices? 149
Chapter 6 Rethinking Local Democracy 183
References 209
Index 215

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