HKS Authors

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County governments are a crucial component of the fabric of American democracy. Yet there has been almost no previous research on the policy effects of the partisan composition of county governments. Most counties in the United States have small legislatures, usually called commissions or councils, that set their budgets and other policies. In this study, we examine whether counties with Democratic legislators spend more than counties with Republican ones. We assemble an original dataset of 10,708 elections in approximately 298 medium and large counties over the past 25 years. Based on a regression discontinuity design, we find that electing a Democratic legislator rather than a Republican one leads the average county to increase spending by about 5%. Overall, our findings contribute to a growing literature on the policy consequences of partisan control of state and local government. They show that the partisan selection of county legislators has important policy effects in county governments.


de Benedictis-Kessner, Justin, and Christopher Warshaw. "Politics in Forgotten Governments: The Partisan Composition of County Legislatures and County Fiscal Policies." Journal of Politics 82.2 (April 2020): 460-475.