Representation and inequality in local politics

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Representation and inequality in local politics

Local politics has far-reaching consequences for the quality of life of local publics, not least due to decisions about urban development. Against this backdrop, it is crucial to understand whose interests are reflected in local policy choices. Based on this proposition, the project investigates the patterns and determinants of representation in German cities. Building on the notion that cities are made up of sociostructurally homogeneous quarters, representation of the city population is equivalent to the representation of social strata.

Consequently, the project aims to understand which interests are taken into consideration in local politics, whether there are notable disparities, and, if so, which factors can explain them. To investigate the patterns of local representation, the project studies data from 75 major cities in 13 German Länder with automatic and manual text analysis. Specifically, the project considers three dimensions of local representation.

First, by analyzing plenary protocols, we study the systemic dimensions of local political representation. Second, we consider the partisan dimension of local representation with an analysis of local party manifestos and coalition agreements. Third, we investigate individual representation by evaluating the questions and inquiries by members of the local assemblies. With the study of representation patterns in German city councils, the project pursues three goals.

The descriptive project goal is to systematically describe patterns of representation in local politics. The analytical project goal is to explain disparities in local representation. This entails associating the observed patterns with local turnout, local electoral behaviour, local electoral law, and the characteristics of local party competition.

The prescriptive project goal is to synthesize the project results with a view toward the effects of the local electoral laws to make recommendations for future reforms of the local political institutions. Specifically, the prescriptive project goal asks which institutions and political contexts are most likely to ensure equality in local political representation.


The project builds on the “Local Manifesto Project (LMP)” in terms of content and methodology. The LMP provides the wider public with more than a thousand election manifestos and coalition agreements on local elections in major German cities since 1990. An app that is based on this data gives researchers the opportunity to analyze party competition at the local level using various text scaling-methods and topic models.

Responsible for content: Jan Velimsky