Chapter 5: Perceived government challenges
In Chapter 1 it was argued that a well-functioning local democracy should not only allow for widespread, responsible political engagement of competent citizens. It also requires responsiveness, integrity and competence of its political officeholders, and presumes a system of government that is capable of making public policies and providing public services and facilities to the satisfaction of its citizens. Meeting these demands may be more difficult under some conditions than under others. The challenges facing local government, after all, may vary considerably. Some municipalities operate in communities with widespread unemployment, substantial welfare dependence, many broken families, high crime rates, large ethnic minorities and a low-educated population, whereas others function in areas that are more prosperous and are confronted with fewer problems. Variations in community contexts of this sort may well be reflected in citizens’ perceptions of government challenges. Such perceptions are likely to be important for at least two reasons. Where citizens perceive numerous and severe problems, it may be more difficult for the municipality to meet citizen expectations for effective public action. In situations where actual and perceived problems are pronounced, moreover, citizens may also blame local government for the pitiful state of the community. Public perceptions of local problems, in short, may affect two dimensions of democratic quality considered here – namely, the confidence of citizens in the responsiveness, integrity and competence of local political leaders, and citizen satisfaction with the performance of local government (see e.g. McAllister 1999; Miller & Listhaug 1999; Norris 1999b: 22–3).
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