WP119: Citizen perceptions of local government responsiveness in sub-Saharan Africa

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Working papers
Bratton, Michael

This paper examines local government performance from the perspective of users, with special attention to questions of responsiveness, representation and accountability. The results both confirm and challenge conventional wisdom. One one hand, we verify that popular assessments of political accountability at the local level are driven by instrumental attitudes about government performance. In short, people in Africa judge the quality of local government primarily in terms of whether they think elected leaders “deliver the goods.” On the other hand, we discover that, while citizen activism boosts the popular perception that local leaders are responsive, we discover that tax compliance is only weakly connected to responsiveness, and thus to representation and accountability. And, contrary to expectations, a citizen’s experience as a victim of corruption leads to perceptions of more, not less, responsive leadership.