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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Campaigning in Lilliput: Money’s Influence in Small and Mid-Sized City Elections


Research on federal, state and big-city elections has concluded that campaign spending is a necessary but not sufficient condition for electoral success: even though the best financed candidates do not always win, aspirants for office need to raise and spend funds to mount competitive campaigns. But scholars have not explored whether this pattern holds in small to mid-sized cities. Money influences elections in all jurisdictions, but it is plausible that as cities get smaller campaign finance dynamics change. In this paper I explore whether campaign finance dynamics are different in small and mid-sized cities, using a dataset of 61 California cities. Despite reason to think that they will vary, I find that campaign finance patterns are similar across cities of various sizes. Few city council candidates are able to mount credible campaigns without money, even in small cities. Incumbents enjoy high re-election rates across all cities, and levels of competition may even decrease with constituency size.

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