A Democracy of Scale. Size and Representative Democracy in Swedish Local Government

David Karlsson


Two central mechanisms of representative democracy are A) the identification of the people’s will by elections and B) the process wherein elected representatives enforce policies preferred by the voters. This article demonstrates that municipal size is of vital importance for how these two mechanisms function in Swedish local democracy. A prerequisite for mechanism A is that voters are provided with a variety of political alternatives to choose from. If the political alternatives are limited, voters will have trouble deciding which parties or candidates reflect their political opinions. To interpret election results as a manifestation of the people’s will in such situations is highly problematic. The study shows that the manifestation of political alternatives in local politics increases significantly with the size of the municipality. The results also show that the political knowledge and influence (in relation to national and local bureaucracies) of local political leaders correlate positively with municipal size. The conclusion is that the success of local political leaders in their endeavour to identify and enforce the will of the people depends on the size of the municipality they govern.

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Scandinavian Journal of Public Administration

School of Public Administration, Box 712 - SE-405 30 Göteborg

ISSN: 2001-7405, E-ISSN: 2001-7413