David Schleicher continues to turn his powerful intellect to the under-studied subject of urban political economy. Lack of information is always a problem in democracy, but...
...voters in national elections are provided with a coping
mechanism, a bit of publicly provided information, given to them
directly at the moment of voting, the party label on the ballot. As Morris Fiorina argued,
voters develop "running tallies" about the parties, using retrospectice
evaluations of how life has been under one party or another. That is,
they gather over time about the qualities, successes and failures of
each of the political parties to develop a scoresheet or tally that
will provide them with guidance about how to vote in the future...
Voters in local elections -- at least those that use partisan
elections -- are given information too, but it is of a lower quality. If
I am right, the party heuristic provides only very weak information at
the local level. As a result, big city voters are left largely adrift
without the tools to provide much meaningful input in local elections.
Voters use party labels almost exclusively, even though they carry
little information, because they don't have any other information.
Given rational ignorance, this means that big city elections do not
regularly generate representative outcomes.
But why don't voters just do retrospective voting? If outcomes are better than normal, re-elect the incumbents. If they're worse than normal, elect their opponents. You don't need to make a big effort to gather this information. Just stroll around your city, and ask yourself "Do I like what I see?"
I don't see any reason why this wouldn't work if tried. The problem, I suspect, is that urban voters won't try it. New Yorkers are Democrats, and even the terrors of the 70s and the revival of the 90s weren't enough to change that.