Summer scholars Colin Lewis-Beck and Tom Rice presented their work at this virtual lunch and learn.
It has been almost three decades since Robert Putnam’s book, Making Democracy Work, sparked great interest in the positive impact of social capital on society. Social capital is a complex concept that is defined a bit differently by different scholars, but most agree the two core components are high levels of interpersonal trust, and the propensity of people to work together to accomplish common goals. Putnam used the concept to explain why northern Italy, which is high in social capital, has more efficient, effective, and responsive local governments than southern Italy, which has much lower levels of social capital. The link between social capital and good government has been replicated in many other settings.
Our research asks a related question: does social capital lead to inclusive political leadership; that is, to what extent, if at all, are societies with high social capital also societies where leadership is shared among a wide variety of people as opposed to a concentrated few. We use a unique data set that samples the opinions of citizens in 99 small Iowa communities to test for the link between social capital and shared leadership. What we find is that citizens in towns high in social capital are significantly more likely to say that leadership in their town is more inclusive than citizens in communities with lower social capital. This suggests that not only does social capital lead to better government, it also leads to more inclusive leadership. An interesting side finding is that citizens’ opinions of how inclusive leadership is in their community have nothing to do with socio-demographics.
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