One of the linchpins of democratic accountability runs through service quality. Because citizens are sensitive to the quality of basic services, they can translate (dis)satisfaction into assessments of incumbent politicians. Yet, although previous research has shown that both access to, and the quality of, basic services decline in rural settings, this seems not to translate into increased dissatisfaction with incumbents. In this paper we seek to understand why. We theorize four potential mechanisms that might underpin the weaker accountability for poor service outcomes in more remote settings. To test these mechanisms, we use data from 34,514 geocoded survey respondents across 19 countries in Latin America. We show that the likelihood of translating dissatisfaction with services into discontent with elected officials decreases as distance to urban centers increases. We find some evidence that a low sense of political efficacy and deference to hierarchy mediate the relationship between remoteness, service quality and accountability. Nevertheless, some of the direct relationship between distance and attitudes towards elected officials persists in the face of our mediation analysis, suggesting that more work needs to be done on the relationship between remoteness, service quality and accountability.
Public services, geography, and citizen perceptions of government in Latin America