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.

My first paper award!

I am pleased to announce that the recent winner of the Herbert Kaufman Award for the best paper is a paper I co-authored with Tony Bertelli, Dyana P. Mason, and David A. Gastwirth, titled, “The Statistical Measurement of Accountability Constructs in American Governance.”  The award is given to the best paper on public administration presented at the previous year’s American Political Science Association annual meeting. Tony, Dyana, David and I worked very hard collecting the data and completing this research project and I am thrilled that we were awarded the Kaufman Award!

If you want to know more about the research project we undertook that is described in the paper, you can watch a video (posted below) of the four of us presenting the paper at the Price School in February.

 A big thank you also goes to the Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise, which funded the research.

Here is the video of my research team presenting of the paper “Measuring Behavioral Attributes for Federal Agencies Across Time,” at the Price School of Public Policy at USC. It was quite exciting to present our results to the faculty and students at our own school. I hope you enjoy the video. I would love to hear your comments or questions. You can email them to me at

Why do people decide to run for elected office?

There is a vast literature in political science on what motivates people to run for elected office. Some scholars have focused on the initial decision to leave the private sector or to leave an un-elected position and make that first jump into the political arena. Others have focused on why someone who has been serving in a legislature for a long time would decide to run again versus retiring. While the research to date has offered no clear answer as to why people choose to seek elected office, it has pointed researchers in a few directions. One thing that scholars have found influences potential candidates is their evaluation of the political environment. For instance, would the potential candidate be running against a seasoned (and financially advantaged) incumbent or would they be running for an open seat? Or would the potential candidate be running against a popular and well known contender or is the pool of potential contenders relatively weak? While these structural factors certainly influence the decision to run, research has also suggested that personal factors also play a key role.

Many scholars have come to the conclusion that gender is a key variable in predicting electoral ambition as women are much less likely to run for elected office than are men. One explanation for this trend is that women tend to be more concerned about balancing their personal lives with their professional lives and thus shy away from lengthy electoral campaigns. When I read this though, I thought “Well that makes sense, but maybe only for women who are considering that first jump into politics. For a women who has already held elected office, I am not sure that her being a woman would still have much of an effect on her decision to run for higher office.” 

At the same time, I was working on the California Public Officials Survey with the USC Bedrosian Center. This is a survey of local elected officials throughout the state of California. One of the questions that we asked these local elected officials, primarily city council members and mayors, was whether they had a desire to run for higher elected office in the future. I decided to examine the question of what factors contribute to an individual’s nascent electoral ambition, their desire to at some point in the future run for higher office. I will leave out the fancy statistical details for those who want to read the full paper, but the results of my statistical model show that among these local elected officials (all of whom have already successfully waged an electoral campaign) the effect of gender on electoral ambition was not significant. While I was disappointed that my original variable of interest wasn’t significant, I did find something else interesting from the model. It turns out that compensation satisfaction, age, and the percent of their household income that their salary as an elected official accounted for were the primary variables which explained electoral ambition. 

While my results only show association and not causation, they did suggest an interesting finding to me. Politics is often a career ladder, with candidates moving from the local to the state to the federal level. Just from my conversations, I believe that a good number of citizens have an underlying desire that their elected officials seek office out of concern for the public interest. They want their elected officials to go off to elected office to represent their needs and to fight for what is best for the people. While many elected officials may do just that, I can’t really speak to their behavior in office, my results do suggest that what motivates people to seek elected office may not be their passion for representing the interests of the people or their interest in certain policy issues. Rather, those who see politics as a career, in other words those who depend on it for the majority of their household income, and those who are young, serving in an elected position and unhappy with their current pay are the ones who express desire to run for higher elected office. Based on my model, someone who is 25-34 years of age and described their current compensation as very poor had a predicted probability of expressing electoral ambition to run for higher office of 0.9399 while someone who was 65-74 years of age and described their current compensation as very good had a predicted probability of expressing electoral ambition of only 0.0518, holding all other variables, including race, gender, education, and passion for policy issues steady. That is a dramatic difference, and I think it suggests that maybe the people who enter electoral campaigns have the same motivations of people who send out resumes and go on interviews in the hunt for a new job: they are unhappy with their current benefits and as a rational actor they are interested in seeking a new position that they believe will offer better pay. 

I will be presenting this research at the Midwest Political Association Conference in April in Chicago. If you will be there, I would love for you to come to the Panel on Leaving Legislatures that Saturday to see the presentation. If you can’t make the conference but would like more information, email me and I will be happy to send you a draft of the paper. 

I’m Glad You Stopped By!

Welcome to my new blog! 

As I spend the next year writing my dissertation and beginning my journey through the academic job market, I will use this blog to write about my experiences and the exciting research projects that I am working on.  I hope you will come back often and let me know what you think of my work.