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 14: Size and local democracy – a summary assessment

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

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy


The primary aim of this book has been to answer the question of what is the effect of population size on the democratic quality of municipal government. In Chapter 1 it was argued that in order to qualify as a democracy a political system has to allow its citizens effective control of its political agenda and decision making, which is the gist of ‘government by the people’. It was further argued that accountability and responsiveness are two essential principles in establishing citizen control. On the basis of these principles four dimensions were identified – citizen competence, political confidence, citizen satisfaction and active participation – and seven sets of indicators for measuring the democratic quality of local political systems were established: local political interest, local political knowledge ,personal political competence, confidence in local politicians, satisfaction with local government performance, local electoral participation (turnout and local distinctiveness), local non-electoral participation (contacting, party activities, community action). In addition we have used two indicators relating to direct democratic practices found only in Switzerland – participation in assembly meetings and participation in referenda when these are held in both assembly and parliamentary systems of local government. For each of these different indicators we have sought to answer the question about what effects, if any, the population size of municipalities may have. In doing so we have first sought to explicate relevant theoretical arguments, after which we have investigated the theoretical models using empirical evidence collected in four countries.

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