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Does Local Government Matter?

How Urban Policies Shape Civic Engagement

2012
Author:

Elaine B. Sharp

Does Local Government Matter?

Asks and answers hard questions about the consequences of local government programs for democracy

Employing policy feedback theory to a series of local government programs, Elaine B. Sharp shows that these programs do have consequences with respect to citizens’ political participation. With this clear-eyed analysis, Sharp finds that local governments’ social program activities actually dampen participation of the have-nots, while cities’ development programs reinforce the political involvement of already-privileged business interests.

In this probing and innovative study, Elaine B. Sharp explores how local governments, through policies ranging from social welfare to community policing, affect participation by citizens. Her nuanced and sophisticated analysis extends and challenges what scholars know about the impact of policies on the quality of democracy. Sharp’s findings are sobering: government closest-to-home appears, in many ways, to exacerbate political inequality, amplifying the voice of the powerful and stifling that of the less advantaged.

Suzanne Mettler, The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Programs Undermine American Democracy

Until recently, policy evaluation has mostly meant assessing whether government programs raise reading levels, decrease teen pregnancy rates, improve air quality levels, lower drunk-driving rates, or achieve any of the other goals that government programs are ostensibly created to do. Whether or not such programs also have consequences with respect to future demands for government action and whether government programs can heighten—or dampen—citizen involvement in civic activities are questions that are typically overlooked.

This book applies such questions to local government. Employing policy feedback theory to a series of local government programs, Elaine B. Sharp shows that these programs do have consequences with respect to citizens’ political participation. Unlike other feedback theory investigations, which tend to focus on federal government programs, Sharp’s looks at a broad range of policy at the local level, including community policing programs, economic development for businesses, and neighborhood empowerment programs.

With this clear-eyed analysis, Sharp finds that local governments’ social program activities actually dampen participation of the have-nots, while cities’ development programs reinforce the political involvement of already-privileged business interests. Meanwhile, iconic urban programs such as community policing and broader programs of neighborhood empowerment fail to enhance civic engagement or build social capital at the neighborhood level; at worst, they have the potential to deepen divisions—especially racial divisions—that undercut urban neighborhoods.

Does Local Government Matter?

Elaine B. Sharp is professor of political science at the University of Kansas. She is the author of several books, including Morality Politics in American Cities.

Does Local Government Matter?

In this probing and innovative study, Elaine B. Sharp explores how local governments, through policies ranging from social welfare to community policing, affect participation by citizens. Her nuanced and sophisticated analysis extends and challenges what scholars know about the impact of policies on the quality of democracy. Sharp’s findings are sobering: government closest-to-home appears, in many ways, to exacerbate political inequality, amplifying the voice of the powerful and stifling that of the less advantaged.

Suzanne Mettler, The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Programs Undermine American Democracy

Sharp has produced a compelling, data-driven argument... The findings are provocative and interesting and should be a first step in exploring the consequences of policy design.

CHOICE

Does Local Government Matter?

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction. Government Programs Matter: Political Learning, Policy Feedbacks, and the Policy-Centered Approach

1. The Participatory Impacts of County Governments’ Means-Tested and Universal Social Programs
2. City Government and Neighborhoods: Intentional Empowerment and Reactionary Mobilization
3. Community Policing: A Reform Policy for Police Responsiveness
4. City Government, Economic Development Incentives, and Business Influence
5. The Impact of Development Incentive Policy Reform: A Case Study
6. Policy-Centered Theory and Urban Programs: Community Effects in a Global Context

Appendix A: The Study Cities and their 2000 Populations
Appendix B: Additional Detail on Content Analysis Procedures and Coding Rules

Notes
Bibliography
Index