Race, politics, and punishment

Abstract

This paper empirically evaluates two competing theories of electoral accountability in the context of New Orleans’ 2006 mayoral election. According to the democratic efficiency theory, voters can successfully punish ineffective political agents by removing them from office. In contrast, the public choice theory argues that the bundled nature of political goods prevents voters from successfully holding ineffective politicians accountable. We find that although there is limited support for the punishment effect predicted by the democratic efficiency theory, this effect is overwhelmed by the fact that the bundle of goods politicians offer contains elements that pull in opposing directions. This prevents the punishment effect from having any real impact, leading to democratic failure. Our results support the public choice theory of electoral (un)accountability.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Notes

  1. 1.

    The political bundling problem remains regardless of candidates’ absolute levels of competence. For example, even if all candidates in a given New Orleans mayoral election are largely incompetent, as long as they aren’t identically so, citizens still face a tradeoff between a candidate’s relative competence and the other elements of the political bundle he offers.

  2. 2.

    To our knowledge this paper is the second to use a hurricane-caused disaster in New Orleans to evaluate the determinants of its mayoral election. The first is Abney and Hill (1966), who consider natural disaster in New Orleans as a political variable.

  3. 3.

    For an analysis of the political problems associated with FEMA-provided disaster relief, see also Garrett and Sobel (2003) and Leeson and Sobel (2008).

  4. 4.

    Nor can Nagin be blamed for the failure to devote the resources required to make the levies that failed in the face of Hurricane Katrina strong enough to withstand a Category 5 hurricane when those levies were being built and later attended to. That fault lies largely at the feet of American taxpayers.

  5. 5.

    One key purpose of representative democracy is to give citizens a means of expressing their evaluations of politicians’ performance. Our purpose in this paper is to test whether democracy does in fact faithfully reflect the various elements of citizens’ evaluations of that performance (per the democratic efficiency hypothesis) or whether it might fail to do so because of political “bundling” (per the public choice hypothesis).

  6. 6.

    We exclude the remaining eight precincts because of missing data. These are in Ward 9, precincts 41A, 41B, 41C, 41D, 42C, 44G, 44O, 45A.

  7. 7.

    We exclude absentee ballots not assigned to a precinct.

  8. 8.

    The only other major candidate facing Nagin and Landrieu in the general election was Audubon Nature Institute CEO Ron Forman who garnered 17% of the vote.

  9. 9.

    Our simulation of column 4 evaluates change in percent black at its mean, −1.94.

  10. 10.

    The average employed in our regressions is based on a sample of three observations within each precinct. The standard deviation and range was calculated from these three observations.

References

  1. Abney, F. G., & Hill, L. B. (1966). Natural disasters as a political variable: The effect of a hurricane on an urban election. American Political Science Review, 60, 974–981.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Brinkley, D. G. (2006). The great deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Buchanan, J. M., & Tullock, G. (1962). The calculus of consent: Logical foundations of constitutional democracy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Eichel, L. (2005). What went wrong, knight ridder special report, 11 Sept 2005.

  5. Garrett, T. A., & Sobel, R. S. (2003). The political economy of FEMA disaster payments. Economic Inquiry, 41, 496–509.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Krueger, A. (2005). At FEMA, disasters and politics go hand in hand, New York Times, 15 Sept 2005.

  7. Leeson, P. T., & Sobel, R. S. (2008). Weathering corruption. Journal of Law and Economics, 51, 667–681.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. McKelvey, R. D. (1976). Intransitivities in multidimensional voting models and some implications for agenda control. Journal of Economic Theory, 12, 472–482.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Myers, L., & The NBC Investigative Unit. (2005). Relief chaos in Katrina’s wake, MSNBC.com, 8 Sept 2005.

  10. Phillips, S. (2005). What went wrong in hurricane crisis, interview transcript, Dateline NBC, 9 Sept 2005.

  11. Romer, T., & Rosenthal, H. (1978). Political resource allocation, controlled agendas, and the status quo. Public Choice, 33, 27–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Seed, R. B., & The Independent Levee Investigation Team. (2006). Investigation of the performance of the New Orleans flood protection systems in Hurricane Katrina on 29 Aug 2005. Available at: http://www.ce.berkeley.edu/~new_orleans/.

  13. Shughart, W. F., I. I. (2006). Katrinanomics: The politics and economics of disaster relief. Public Choice, 127, 31–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Sobel, R. S., & Leeson, P. T. (2006). Government’s response to Hurricane Katrina: A public choice analysis. Public Choice, 127, 55–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Sobel, R. S., & Leeson, P. T. (2007). The use of knowledge in natural disaster relief management. Independent Review, 11, 519–532.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Wittman, D. A. (1989). Why democracies produce efficient results. Journal of Political Economy, 97, 1395–1424.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Wittman, D. A. (1995). The myth of democratic failure: Why political institutions are efficient. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We thank Michael Munger and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. Andrea Dean, Andrew Kashdan, and Jennifer Dirmeyer provided excellent research assistance. The financial support of the Mercatus Center is also gratefully acknowledged.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peter T. Leeson.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Leeson, P.T., Sobel, R.S. Race, politics, and punishment. Eur J Law Econ 31, 265–285 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10657-011-9228-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Democratic failure
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • New Orleans

JEL Classification

  • K00
  • D71
  • D72