RWAP: Alexander Sahn

Wednesday, August 9, 2017
12:00pm to 1:30pm
119 Moses Hall, Harris Room
UC Berkeley

"Responsiveness and Election Cycles in the Permitting of Housing"


How responsive are elected officials to the policy preferences of their constituents? Studies of federal and state outcomes show that policy often does not align with public opinion. Votes on the policies measured in these studies are relatively infrequent due to agenda control, meaning that representatives may not have the opportunity to advance their constituents’ interests. I surmount this problem by examining continuous and unbundled votes on land use, a policy area legislated almost entirely by municipalities, where responsiveness is more direct than at the state or national level. Using data on building permits issued in large US cities from 1988-2016, I find an electoral cycle in the permitting of housing construction where mayors and city councillors running for re-election permit nearly 6% fewer units per month in the 6 months before an election than in the 6 months after. Elected officials are therefore particularly responsive to myopic voters’ preference for less development when facing re-election. In cities with a majority of homeowners, who oppose development more than renters, I find a larger permitting gap of nearly 10% fewer units per month, indicating that elected officials are sensitive to the aggregate preferences of their constituents.