Members of the Same Club?: Subnational Variations in Electoral Returns to Public Goods

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Theories of democratic governance assume that citizens reward or punish politicians for their performance in providing public services. This study expands the existing debate by shifting the focus to subnational heterogeneities in electoral returns to government performance. I introduce a theory suggesting that electoral returns to local public goods will increase with their excludability, i.e., the degree to which they are used only by the local population, because due to their excludability, the local population will see them as `club goods’ and as a signal of favoritism. However, this perception of favoritism and club good effect is less likely to be seen when political, ethnic, or religious cleavages between the government and the local electorate exist. Using a comprehensive panel dataset that contains information on all public education and health investments in Turkey since the 1990s and geocoded mobile call data that shows residents’ mobility patterns, this study finds that electoral returns to health and education investments are higher when public goods have a club good nature. However, excludability does not translate to higher reciprocity in secular districts, where a perception of favoritism is less likely to develop due to the cleavages with the Islamist incumbent party, AKP. By revealing that electoral returns to government investments are conditional on characteristics of community structure and composition of beneficiaries, this paper advances the literatures on local public services and electoral accountability.