Electoral Competition, Participation, and Government Responsiveness in Mexico


  • This article has benefited from the comments and criticisms of Carles Boix, John Brehm, Alain de Remes, Todd Eisenstadt, Matt Kocher, Joy Langston, Fabrice Lehoucq, Scott Mainwaring, Claudia Maldonado, Benito Nacif, Susan Stokes, Guillermo Trejo, Jessica Trounstine, and many audience members at the University of Notre Dame's Political Science Regional Workshop, the 2004 meetings of the Midwest and American Political Science Associations, a seminar at Princeton's Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, and the University of Chicago's Comparative Politics Workshop and Political Economy Workshop. Miguel Basáñez, Alain de Remes, Michelle Dion, Todd Eisenstadt, Jonathan Hiskey, and Guillermo Trejo were all kind enough to share data.

Matthew R. Cleary is assistant professor of political science, Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 100B Eggers Hall, Syracuse, NY 13244 (macleary@maxwell.syr.edu).


In this article I test two competing visions about how democracy produces responsive government. Electoral theories of democracy posit that elected governments are responsive to public demands because citizens are able to sanction bad politicians and select good ones. Participatory theories attribute responsiveness to a citizenry's ability to articulate demands and pressure government through a wider range of political action. I test hypotheses derived from these two approaches, using an original dataset that combines electoral, socioeconomic, and public-financial indicators for Mexico's 2,400 municipalities, from 1989 to 2000. The data show that electoral competition has no effect on municipal government performance. But the results are consistent with the hypothesis that nonelectoral participation causes improved performance. Thus, I suggest that the quality of municipal government in Mexico depends on an engaged citizenry and cooperation between political leaders and their constituents, rather than the threat of electoral punishment. I recommend that scholars broaden the study of government responsiveness to account for participatory strategies of political influence and critically assess the claims of those who would promote elections as a cure-all for poor democratic performance.