Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy > Vol 1 > Issue 1

Mayoral Candidates, Social Class, and Representation in American Cities

Patricia A. Kirkland, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics and Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, USA,
Suggested Citation
Patricia A. Kirkland (2020), "Mayoral Candidates, Social Class, and Representation in American Cities", Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy: Vol. 1: No. 1, pp 105-136.

Publication Date: 10 Mar 2020
© 2020 P. A. Kirkland
Representation,  Executive politics,  Urban politics,  Public policy
Representationexecutive politicsurban and local politicspublic policy


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In this article:
Implications of Descriptive Representation 
The Candidates 
Municipal Data 
Empirical Approach 


Despite advances in descriptive representation, the wealth gap between U.S. elected officials and their constituents continues to grow. I investigate whether and how the overrepresentation of the affluent shapes public policy in American cities. Questions about social class and inequality seem especially pressing at the local level for two key reasons. First, the public depends on municipal government for essential services that affect their health and safety. Second, poor and working-class residents likely have fewer resources to "vote with their feet" by leaving cities with subpar services or regressive taxes, fees, and fines. Drawing on an original dataset that includes gender, race, occupational background, and political experience for 3,257 mayoral candidates from 259 cities over 60 years, I provide a comprehensive account of who runs for office and who serves as mayor. Overall, mayors tend to be overwhelmingly white and male with white-collar careers and prior political experience. Across cities and over time, only about 4% of the mayoral candidates in my sample come from the working class. Combining candidate profiles with municipal public finance data, I use a regression discontinuity design (RDD) to investigate the effect of the underrepresentation of the working class on local fiscal policy and find that narrowly electing an affluent mayor has little, if any, impact on local fiscal policy.



Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy, Volume 1, Issue 1 Special issue - The Political Economy of Executive Politics
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.