The following is a brief excerpt from a book prospectus. The working title is “Black Mayors/White Mayors: Performance, Race and Approval:”
All elected executives seek approval from their constituencies. This is true of presidents, governors, and mayors. Even though they may deny its importance, they almost universally realize that citizen approval is a kind of political capital that can be enhanced or squandered. Approval ratings are a running tally of how citizens view their elected leader. These ratings are watched carefully by a number of political actors to judge the range of political activity that is possible.
Most of the existing research on executive approval is based on a performance model, which emphasizes citizen evaluations of conditions in the country or state, most commonly economic conditions. There is ample evidence that economic evaluations directly affect presidential and gubernatorial popularity.
The key question in this research is whether and how the performance model of executive approval applies to the local level. Oddly, this model has rarely been extended down to the third level of executive office, mayors.
Consistent with the research on national and state executive approval, a city’s economy can be one basis for judging mayoral performance. However, there are some qualitative differences between the local vs. the national and states contexts that, taken together, suggest that a performance model may be even more applicable to mayors than to governors and presidents.
First, the concept of “performance” has a richness and complexity at the local level that is not possible at the two higher levels of government. Citizens can evaluate their cities in terms of the level of crime, the quality of policing, the availability of jobs, recreational opportunities, conditions of streets, public transportation, the schools and a myriad of other factors affecting the quality of urban life. In contrast, the factors comprising “performance” at the state and national level are likely to be much more limited in scope.