Size and Local Democracy

Size and Local Democracy

Bas Denters, Michael Goldsmith, Andreas Ladner, Poul Erik Mouritzen and Lawrence E. Rose

How large should local governments be, and what are the implications of changing the scale of local governments for the quality of local democracy? These questions have stood at the centre of debates among scholars and public sector reformers alike from antiquity to the present. This monograph offers the first systematic cross-national investigation of these questions using empirical evidence gathered specifically for this purpose. Results provide insights that offer important touchstones for reform activities and academic research efforts in many countries.

Chapter 2: Confronting the research challenge

Bas Denters, Michael Goldsmith, Andreas Ladner, Poul Erik Mouritzen and Lawrence E. Rose

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy


The central question explored in the present work is whether or not the size of local political-administrative units has any impact on the democratic quality of local government. Ours is not the first inquiry devoted to this topic. Since the seminal work of Dahl and Tufte in 1973, many scholars have taken up the issue in one fashion or another. Previous work on the topic, however, has been beset by a variety of problems. One critical problem has been the lack of appropriate data. Given the almost explosive growth of empirical social science research over the latter half of the twentieth century, it seems paradoxical – indeed bordering on the unbelievable – to posit that inquiries into the possible effects of municipal size on the democratic quality of local government have been hampered by a paucity of appropriate data. Several considerations relating to issues of measurement and data collection nevertheless make this a defensible proposition. These issues pertain to both municipal size, the primary explanatory factor of interest here, and the phenomenon to be explained – namely the quality of local democracy. A second problem encountered in investigating the possible significance of size for the democratic quality of local government has to do with how causal inferences can be made about the effects of municipal size on the attitudes and behaviour of individual citizens amidst a host of potentially relevant intervening and confounding factors.

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