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Politics, process, and professionals: a comparative study of municipal election reform in the United States 2014-2017

Mallett, Victoria (2022) Politics, process, and professionals: a comparative study of municipal election reform in the United States 2014-2017. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004508


Through a qualitative study of municipal elections in Seattle and San Antonio, I present and analyze the political opportunity structures which determine candidate viability both before and after electoral reform. I compare the networks of political actors to determine how candidate viability is affected in non-partisan local races. In addition to interviews and ethnographic study of the campaigns themselves, I draw from campaign contribution records in both cities as well as the archival records of the creation and implementation of the two reforms to fill out the story of how political networks and coalitions adapt to systemic changes. I find that the state processes for the reforms tend to be depoliticizing as they are rationalized by lay commissions rather than in arenas of political contestation. This is striking since the purpose of both reforms was to establish a more inclusive system of representation. I also find that it is the informality of candidate selection through elite brokers of influence which limits the choice of voters. I therefore, argue that ‘influence work’ should be treated as a specific and crucial resource in the study of campaigns and elections. Literature on campaign professionals and political work is extremely limited. This study addresses these issues through a comparative analysis of rulemaking, consultant work, coalition building and candidate success amid electoral reforms. I do this not only by considering the unique cases of San Antonio and Seattle in implementing reforms for the 2017 city elections, but also by offering a distinct conceptualization of viability that breaks from the essential. Viability is environmentally specific, co-constructed, processual, and most importantly, accessible through certain political actors: the political elite.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Victoria Mallett
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Elliott, Rebecca and McQuarrie, Michael

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