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Executive Summary: We evaluate theories linking public service performance to the vote share of incumbent administrations in local government. We assess models where electorates react proportionately even to small changes in performance and models where electorates react only to substantively significant performance changes. We test these models on a panel data set covering elections from 2001 to 2007 in English local governments where an incumbent party was up for re-election. We control for the previous vote, Labour incumbency and local economic conditions. We find strong evidence suggesting that votersí behaviour is affected by clear gradations of performance. Yet it is only the difference between low performance on the one hand and at least mediocre performance on the other that matters. As there is no reward for high performance, our findings suggest a far greater electoral impact of serious performance deterioration than of strong performance improvement.

Sample findings: We find the following impacts of public service performance (as measured by the Comprehensive Performance Assessment) on the % vote share of the incumbent party:

CPA and Vote Share

These figures are straightforward to interpret. For example in model 1, dummy variables are included for (i) CPA ratings of 2 stars and (ii) CPA ratings of 3 or 4 stars. This implies that CPA ratings of 0 stars or 1 star are in the base group, against which comparisons are made. Further looking at model 1, the estimated coefficient on mediocre performance is about 4. This means that if a council moves from mediocre performance to low performance, the incumbent can expect to lose about four percentage points, holding other factors constant.

Democracy and Government Performance: Holding Incumbents Accountable in English Local Governments†(full text pdf)
George A. Boyne, Oliver James, Peter John and Nicolai Petrovsky

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