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Off-Cycle and Off Center: Election Timing and Representation in Municipal Government

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 May 2021

Brigham Young University
Boston College
Boston College
Adam M. Dynes, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Brigham Young University,
Michael T. Hartney, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Boston College,
Sam D. Hayes, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Political Science, Boston College,


Who governs America’s cities: organized interests or mass publics? Though recent scholarship finds that local governments enact policies that align with citizens’ preferences, others argue that it is organized interests, not mass publics that are influential. To reconcile these perspectives, we show that election timing can help shed light on when voters or groups will be pivotal in city politics. Examining 1,600 large US cities, we find that off-cycle elections affect city policy responsiveness asymmetrically, weakening responsiveness on those issues where there is an active and organized interest whose policy objectives deviate from the preferences of the median resident. Here, we focus on public employees’ interests and find that local governments that are elected off cycle spend more on city workers than would be preferred by citizens in more conservative cities. We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for the study of interest groups and representation in local politics.

© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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