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Why do councillors quit prematurely? On the democratic consequences of councillors leaving their seats before the end of term

Gissur Erlingsson
Linköping Universitet
Gissur Erlingsson
Linköping Universitet
Richard Öhrvall
Linköping Universitet
Open Panel

Abstract

One out of six swedish local councilors quit council before the end of their term. Often, this is claimed to signal that local democracy i suffering problems of legitimacy. This paper scrutinizes this claim. 180 councilors that have dropped out prematurely are surveyed, and we seek to find whether political or private reasons drove them to leave council. The results are unambiguous: political reasons, such as dissatisfaction with the internal democracy of political parties or local democracy as a whole are not particularly common. Rather, private reasons, such as moving from the municipality or conditions in the working life, dominate. Hence we maintain that premature dropouts do not signal problems for local democracy. However, they do have negative effects for representative democracy: (a) since groups that already are underrepresented - women, young individuals and immigrants - are overrepresented, dropouts do indeed imply that representation in local councils is further distorted; (b) since local party organizations already from the start do have problems finding individuals that are ready to stand as candidates, premature dropouts do indeed exacerbate the recruitment problem in local politics.