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The Politics of Potholes: Service Quality and Retrospective Voting in Local Elections

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Document pages: 54 pages

Abstract: By conditioning their support for political incumbents on observed performance outcomes, voters can motivate elected officials to represent their interests faithfully while in office. Whether elections serve this function in sub-national U.S. government remains unclear, however, because much of the existing research on retrospective voting in these contexts focuses on outcomes that are not obviously salient to voters or over which the relevant government officials have limited influence. In this study, we examine one outcome -- the quality of local roads -- that is both salient and unquestionably under the control of city government. Our analysis leverages within-city variation in the number of pothole complaints in one of America s largest cities and shows that such variation can explain neighborhood-level differences in support for incumbents in two political offices -- mayor and city council -- across several electoral cycles.

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