Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Jennifer Wolak

Second Advisor

Ken Bickers

Third Advisor

Anand Sokhey

Fourth Advisor

Jeff Harden

Fifth Advisor

Leaf Van Boven


Privatized service delivery is an increasingly prominent feature of local governance, especially as local governments across the country are seeking greater efficiency in the face of perpetual fiscal crisis. However, as local governments outsource more of its responsibilities to private companies, many argue that it shrinks the size of the public sphere, attenuates the bonds that tie people to their governments, and ultimately undermines the quality of local representative government. While democratic theorists have long warned against the dangers of privatization, such warnings have often lacked empirical support. In other words, relatively little is known about the effect that privatization has on the mass public or the quality of local democracy, which raises two inter-related questions. First, when it comes of local privatization, do public preferences match this growing government practices? Second, does the decision to outsource the delivery of public services into the hands of private companies have consequences for mass democratic politics?

In this dissertation, I explore citizen preferences for the privatization of local goods and services, as well as the degree to which privatized service delivery alters citizen attitudes and behavior toward local government. I find that variance in citizen preferences are explained by the same ideological and symbolic considerations that drive people’s broader attitudes about politics, despite claims by scholars of urban politics who suggest that citizens are driven by their material self-interest. Further, I also find that is there is disconnect between public preferences and local government practice among large segments of the population insofar as citizens’ partisan and ideological preferences tend not to predict a community’s decision to privatize the delivery of public goods and services. Lastly, I show evidence that a community’s decision to privatize erodes people’s evaluations of local government performance and their belief that local government can adequately represent their interests. In other words, the evidence supplied here offers some validation to the concern of democratic theorists, and it creates an uneasy tension in local politics between the local imperative to foster greater efficiency and our normative standards by which we often evaluate the strength and vibrancy of local democracy.