Do Political Parties Matter?

That’s the question asked by the Wharton economists Fernando Ferreira and Joseph Gyourko. But they are not talking about national political parties. In that realm, party affiliation has indeed been shown to have a strong effect on legislation and policy. No, Ferreira and Gyourko are interested in whether party affiliation matters on the local level — and their answer, essentially, is no. Using data from more than 4,500 U.S. mayoral elections between 1950 and 2005 in more than 400 cities with populations of at least 25,000, here is what they learned:

[W]e find that party labels do not affect the size of government, the allocation of spending or crime rates, even though there is a large political advantage to incumbency in terms of the probability of winning the next election … In particular, there is a relatively high degree of household homogeneity at the local level that appears to provide the proper incentives for local politicians to be able to credibly commit to moderation and discourages strategic extremism.

While few people would accuse Rudy Giuliani of having “commit[ted] to moderation” or avoiding “strategic extremism” when he was mayor of New York City, the fact remains that he was the rare Republican elected by an extraordinarily Democratic town, and he was generally well regarded until close to the end of his second term. By then, it was mainly his temperament and personal affairs that had turned off many swing voters.

It is true that the mayor of New York City has a larger budget and set of responsibilities than the governors of some states; still, he is the lone mayor running in this year’s presidential election, and is leading the way at that. It will be interesting to see if and how Giuliani, running against a pack of men and a woman who have long been faithful to their national party, assumes the true stripes of his Republican affiliation.

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  1. JS says:

    Ahhh, politics again!

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  2. JS says:

    Ahhh, politics again!

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  3. Peter says:

    I’d be interested to see if the same principle holds in countries which have more than a 2 party system.

    The UK has three strong parties in local government, and many rural districts are controlled by independents instead. – grounds for fruitful research?

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  4. Peter says:

    I’d be interested to see if the same principle holds in countries which have more than a 2 party system.

    The UK has three strong parties in local government, and many rural districts are controlled by independents instead. – grounds for fruitful research?

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  5. Robert Stein says:

    You observe that “few people would accuse Rudy Giuliani of having “commit[ted] to moderation” or avoiding “strategic extremism” when he was mayor of New York City. True enough, but even fewer would accuse him on that in the light of the turn toward zealotry that his presidential campaign has taken in recent weeks.

    On September 11, 2001, the lackadaisical lame-duck mayor with no political prospects and two failed marriages was transformed into a money-making preacher and is now the fervent leader of a crusade against Islamofascism.

    Party affiliation understandably has led to his changes of position on social issues, but has extremism always been latent in the man?

    http://ajliebling.blogspot.com/2007/10/rudys-crusade.html

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  6. Robert Stein says:

    You observe that “few people would accuse Rudy Giuliani of having “commit[ted] to moderation” or avoiding “strategic extremism” when he was mayor of New York City. True enough, but even fewer would accuse him on that in the light of the turn toward zealotry that his presidential campaign has taken in recent weeks.

    On September 11, 2001, the lackadaisical lame-duck mayor with no political prospects and two failed marriages was transformed into a money-making preacher and is now the fervent leader of a crusade against Islamofascism.

    Party affiliation understandably has led to his changes of position on social issues, but has extremism always been latent in the man?

    http://ajliebling.blogspot.com/2007/10/rudys-crusade.html

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  7. Rafe Furst says:

    My view is that parties themselves are an emergent phenomenon of certain voting systems in a representative context. Mayors are unlike representatives (as in a legislature) in that being single individuals they do not have to vote in order to make a decision, where as legislatures do.

    This does not explain why parties matter so greatly in presidential elections. Certainly affiliating oneself with a party is a very efficient way to get your message across about what you will likely do once elected. I would guess that the importance of party politics can be directly linked with the rise of broadcast media (esp TV), which requires short, pithy messages as opposed to protracted discourse. I would also posit that party politics would matter much less (perhaps not at all) in presidential elections if they did not exist at the legislative level.

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  8. Rafe Furst says:

    My view is that parties themselves are an emergent phenomenon of certain voting systems in a representative context. Mayors are unlike representatives (as in a legislature) in that being single individuals they do not have to vote in order to make a decision, where as legislatures do.

    This does not explain why parties matter so greatly in presidential elections. Certainly affiliating oneself with a party is a very efficient way to get your message across about what you will likely do once elected. I would guess that the importance of party politics can be directly linked with the rise of broadcast media (esp TV), which requires short, pithy messages as opposed to protracted discourse. I would also posit that party politics would matter much less (perhaps not at all) in presidential elections if they did not exist at the legislative level.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0