Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Political Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation explores democratic governance at the local level: responsiveness, transparency, and the emergence of discriminatory policies. First, in Chapter 1, I consider whether citizens in overlapping governing units are represented by their elected officials. In other words, given a patchwork system of overlapping local institutions, can residents direct public policy? To answer this question, I implement a framework that takes into account multiple overlapping governing institutions: cities, counties, school districts, and special districts. In doing so, I create a novel measure of local ideological preferences that varies dynamically. I find that both cross-sectional and dynamic responsiveness exists at the local level. I reframe the responsiveness discussion from a single governing unit to a holistic system of overlapping institutions and provide the strongest evidence to date that local governments respond dynamically to the ideology of citizens.

In Chapter 2, I examine the extent to which social pressures can foster greater responsiveness among public officials. I conduct a non-deceptive field experiment on 1400 city executives across all 50 states and measure their level of responsiveness to open records requests. I use two messages to prime social pressure. The first treatment centers on the norm and duty to be responsive to the public's request for transparency. The second treatment is grounded in the peer effects literature, which suggests that individuals change their behavior in the face of potential social sanctioning and accountability. I find no evidence that mayors are affected by priming the officials' duty to the public. The mayors who received the peer effects prime were 6-8 percentage points less likely to respond, suggesting a `backfire effect.' This paper contributes to the growing responsiveness literature on the local level and the potential detrimental impact of priming peer effects.

In the final chapter, I investigate the emergence of discriminatory ordinances. Theories of racial threat suppose that members of the racial majority group will see the presence of minorities as a threat to their socio-political status and implement policies to hurt that minority population. I use the racial threat hypothesis to examine the adoption of criminal activity nuisance ordinances (or crime-free housing laws). I find that the racial composition of cities predicts the implementation of criminal activity nuisance ordinances. In further exploring the results, I use a machine learning model to uncover the discontinuity or ``tipping point" where the propensity for policy adoption sharply increases. This research speaks to the importance of representation, minority power, and the nation's diversification.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Jacob M. Montgomery

Committee Members

Brian F. Crisp


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