How do local elected officials think about service reductions?
I am working on a paper with fellow grad student, Dyana P.Mason, on local elected officials’ attitudes toward service reduction decisions. We are using data from the California Public Officials Survey, which asked local elected officials, “If it became necessary to reduce the provision of services in your jurisdiction, which of the following would you most support cutting?” The choices included education, health and hospitals, parks and recreation, police and fire protection, libraries, transportation, housing and community development, and public welfare.
In general, the normative view is that liberals will support the funding of social welfare services while conservatives will seek to cut the funding of those services. But the literature suggests a few other factors which could drive an elected officials attitude toward which services to cut. The median voter theory suggests that elected officials should be sensitive to constituent preferences since they are inevitably concerned about reelection. The political science literature suggests that in areas where elections are especially competitive, politicians will be much less likely to cut services, which they can use as a way to gain favor with constituents. Finally, there is a literature which suggests that ideology can play a role. For instance, McDonald and Budge (2005) found that governments controlled by liberals spend more on social welfare services than governments controlled by conservatives.
Dyana and I wanted to test these theories, so we estimated a model of local elected officials desire to cut either social welfare services or other services. We categorized libraries, transportation, housing and community development, and public welfare as social welfare services. The results of our model were quite interesting. First of all, our measures for the ideology of the median voter and for the electoral competitiveness of the district were not significant. The only two factors which were significant were the personal political ideology of the elected official and whether the elected official had political ambitions to run for higher office at some point in the future. We estimate predicted probabilities and the results were dramatic. A very liberal official with no electoral ambition has a probability of supporting the reduction of social welfare services of 0.08 while a very conservative official with electoral ambition has a probability of supporting the reduction of social welfare services of 0.43.
These results suggest to me that perhaps local elected officials who see their office as a stepping stone to a higher office are thinking strategically about which services they would support cutting and those conservatives who do have electoral ambition are more likely to fall in line with the traditional conservative value of cutting spending on these redistributive services.
While Dyana and I are still working on the paper, we believe these findings are an interesting addition to the literature on how elected officials think about resource allocation.
I will be presenting this paper at the Midwest Political Science Association meeting in Chicago next weekend. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on this research project.