Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 13 > Issue 1

Something for Something: How and Why Direct Democracy Impacts Service Quality

Michael W. Sances, University of Memphis, USA, msances@memphis.edu
Suggested Citation
Michael W. Sances (2018), "Something for Something: How and Why Direct Democracy Impacts Service Quality", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 13: No. 1, pp 29-57. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00017004

Publication Date: 29 Mar 2018
© 2018 M. W. Sances
Democracy,  Political economy,  State politics,  Urban politics,  Voting behavior
Direct democracyVoter competenceLocal government


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In this article:
Direct Democracy, Spending, and Services 
Direct Democracy in Illinois Local Governments 
Data Collection 
Effects of Direct Democracy on Revenues and Services 
Why Direct Democracy Impacts Service Quality 


Does direct democracy affect the quality of government services? Numerous studies find that direct democracy reduces government revenues, but whether this reflects lower quality services, or simply reduced waste, is unknown. I use a local government reform to estimate the effect of mandatory tax referendums on both revenues and service quality, here measured using fire department response times. The introduction of referendums reduces revenue growth by 1.8%, while also increasing response times by half a minute. An analysis of precinct-level service utilization and electoral behavior suggests that this effect is driven not by voter myopia, but by selfinterest. Poor precincts, which are six times as likely to experience a structure fire, are also six times as likely to vote to increase taxes. Consistent with the precinct-level results, the effects of referendums are smallest in the poorest districts, and are largest in the wealthiest districts.