Home > Thematic Areas > Democratic local governance > The Partisan Composition of County Legislatures and County Fiscal Policies

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. Two researchers, Justin de Benedictis-Kessner (Harvard University) and Christopher Warshaw (George Washington University) recently examined whether counties with Democratic legislators spend more than counties with Republican ones.

The researchers assembled an original data set of over six thousand elections in approximately 300 medium and large counties over the past 25 years. Based on a regression discontinuity design, they found that counties with Democratic legislators spend more than ones with Republican legislators. The effects are particularly large in counties with small legislatures where any given election could affect the ideological position of the median legislator.

Overall, these 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.

Read the entire study:

de Benedictis-Kessner, Justin, and Christopher Warshaw. 2017. Politics in Forgotten Governments: The Partisan Composition of County Legislatures and County Fiscal Policies. October 10, 2017