Chapter 3: The research context
The core question posed in this book is whether municipal population size has an impact on the quality of local democracy. Democratic quality, we have argued, pertains both to the need for widespread and responsible political engagement by citizens on the one hand and to the responsiveness and capacity of local governments to satisfy citizens on the other hand. In this chapter we first describe variations in the size of municipalities found in the four countries considered in this book. Then some of the institutional conditions that are relevant for achieving local democracy are discussed. In so doing we provide a short description of the basic democratic institutions of local government in the four countries. We also deal with institutional conditions that are relevant for local government’s capacity to satisfy citizen needs and demands. Finally, we explore if and to what extent such variations in local government regimes are reflected in citizens’ perceptions of the importance of local government and politics. The intent here is to provide an understanding of the context in which local politics, participation and public service provision take place in the four countries of our study. It should be noted that the description and statistical information provided pertain to conditions existing around the turn of the century (2000–2001), which was the time at which the surveys employed in this study were conducted.
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