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Abstract

This thesis examines the way local elected officials understand and interpret public opinion. I aim to explain how local officials make decisions in an environment where public opinion polling is limited or nonexistent. I draw on contemporary statements and primary documents, secondary accounts of behind-the-scenes deliberations, and interviews with activists, officials, and other political actors, to analyze the public and private debate over mental health clinic closings in Chicago. I find that early structural and institutional advantages allowed Mayor Rahm Emanuel to limit the long-term impact of activists opposed to his agenda. At the beginning of their terms, mayors may enjoy greater latitude than executive officials at other levels of government. This pattern may be explained by the limited capacity of legislative officials and advocacy groups at the local level. This suggests additional institutional capacity for policy analysis and public opinion polling could empower city councils and reduce the latitude of mayors.

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