This paper empirically evaluates two competing theories of electoral accountability in the context of New Orleans’ 2006 mayoral election. According to the democratic efficiency theory, voters can successfully punish ineffective political agents by removing them from office. In contrast, the public choice theory argues that the bundled nature of political goods prevents voters from successfully holding ineffective politicians accountable. We find that although there is limited support for the punishment effect predicted by the democratic efficiency theory, this effect is overwhelmed by the fact that the bundle of goods politicians offer contains elements that pull in opposing directions. This prevents the punishment effect from having any real impact, leading to democratic failure. Our results support the public choice theory of electoral (un)accountability.
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