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 6: Political interest and knowledge

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

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy


Democracy, as we noted at the outset of this book, implies that collective political decision making is effectively controlled by the people. Just how control is exercised is an open question. The ballot box is one means, but other channels of communication and influence may also be used. To be effective in exercising control, however, requires that citizens are sufficiently curious about politics to ‘follow along’ with what transpires, and in doing so acquire a modicum of relevant political knowledge enabling them to (re)act as conditions warrant. This supposition applies regardless of the means of control pursued. Such a stipulation is a basic precept underlying the idea that elections serve to hold public officials accountable (see Manin et al. 1999). If people do not know what party or coalition of parties holds a majority in the local council, it will be difficult to use the ballot box ‘to throw the rascals out’ or, alternatively, ‘to reward the good guys’. But interest and knowledge are equally critical in other situations as well. Without some interest in politics, it is unlikely that people will seek and retain information about political issues and be in a position to use this information in attempting to influence and control political-administrative decisions when the need arises.

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