University of Mississippi

Citizen Perceptions of Government Service Quality: Evidence from Public Schools

by Michael Henderson, Chingos, M.M., and M.R.West.
Quarterly Journal of Politics 7: 411-445, 2012.

Citizen Perceptions of Government Service Quality: Evidence from Public Schools
Conventional models of democratic accountability hinge on citizens’ ability to evaluate government performance accurately. In recent years, public reporting of governmental performance has expanded in many policy domains, potentially enhancing citizen capacities to make accurate evaluations. Yet there is little evidence on the degree to which citizen perceptions correspond to actual service quality. Using survey data, we find that citizens’ perceptions of the quality of specific public schools reflect available information about the level of student achievement in those schools. The relationship between perceived and actual school quality is two to three times stronger for parents of school-age children, who have the most contact with schools and arguably the strongest incentive to be informed. A regression discontinuity analysis of an oversample of Florida residents confirms that public accountability systems can have a causal effect on citizen perceptions of service quality, particularly for those with fewer alternative sources of relevant information.