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Hometown Inequality
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Book description

Local governments play a central role in American democracy, providing essential services such as policing, water, and sanitation. Moreover, Americans express great confidence in their municipal governments. But is this confidence warranted? Using big data and a representative sample of American communities, this book provides the first systematic examination of racial and class inequalities in local politics. We find that non-whites and less-affluent residents are consistent losers in local democracy. Residents of color and those with lower incomes receive less representation from local elected officials than do whites and the affluent. Additionally, they are much less likely than privileged community members to have their preferences reflected in local government policy. Contrary to the popular assumption that governments that are “closest” govern best, we find that inequalities in representation are most severe in suburbs and small towns. Typical reforms do not seem to improve the situation, and we recommend new approaches.


'This book is a powerhouse. It revises what we know about American politics using sweeping data, clear theoretical predictions, and careful conclusions. In page after page, Schaffner, Rhodes, and La Raja demonstrate deep racial inequities in local political ideologies, local political representation, and local policy outcomes. Their work will undoubtedly play a starring role in the renaissance of scholarship on cities.'

Jessica Trounstine - Professor of Political Science, University of California, Merced

'Citizens in the United States elect hundreds of thousands of local officials across nearly 90,000 local governments. Hometown Inequality seeks to understand how well these officials represent their constituents and whether they represent economic and racial groups differently. To do this, Schaffner, Rhodes, and La Raja combine data from a staggering 260 million adults with ideological and policy data from over a thousand towns and cities. The result is a highly innovative and engaging book that will greatly advance the conversation about representation in the US.'

Peter K. Enns - Department of Government, Cornell University

'Hometown Inequality provides an authoritative assessment of representational inequalities in local governments. It finds that local governments do not adequately represent the poor and racial minorities. It also raises a number of ideas to rejuvenate local democracy. This book should be required reading for anyone interested in democratic politics in the United States and how we can make it work better.'

Christopher Warshaw - Department of Political Science, George Washington University

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