Does Local Government Competition Reduce Environmental Governance Performance? The Role of Public Value Conflict and Media Sentiment

Published date01 May 2023
AuthorBin Guan
Date01 May 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(5) 824 –867
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997231157744
Does Local Government
Competition Reduce
Performance? The Role
of Public Value Conflict
and Media Sentiment
Bin Guan1,2
With the increasing attention paid to environmental protection and sustainable
development in various countries worldwide, the relationship between local
government competition and environmental governance has become more
subtle and complex. This paper provides new insight into their relationship
based on public value theory and media sentiment perspective. Utilizing
panel data from 2012 to 2019 in 216 cities in China, this study integrated
Data Envelopment Analysis, Conflicting Attitudes Model, Computer-Aided
Text Analysis, and machine learning-based sentiment analysis, as well as
nonlinear mediation model to empirically test the relationships among local
governments’ competition pressure, public value conflict, media sentiments,
and environmental governance performance. The study found that: (1)
Competition pressure and environmental governance performance exist in
a “U-curved” relationship. (2) The core mechanism of the above relationship
lies in the mediating role of public value conflict. Within a specific range, the
public value conflict faced by local governments increases as competition
1School of Management, Lanzhou University, China
2China Research Center for Government Performance Management, Lanzhou University,
Corresponding Author:
Bin Guan, School of Management/ China Research Center for Government Performance
Management, Lanzhou University, 222 Tianshui South Road, Lanzhou 730000, China.
1157744AAS0010.1177/00953997231157744Administration & SocietyGuan
Guan 825
pressure increases. This conflict would push local governments into
a dilemma and induce them to commit misconduct. However, when
competition pressure exceeds this range, the public value conflict faced
by local governments will be weakened, leading environmental governance
performance to rebound. (3) Negative media sentiments significantly alleviate
the negative impact of public value conflict on environmental governance
performance. This study helps researchers and policymakers recognize
government competition’s influence on environmental governance from a
public value perspective, with further exploration and confirmation of the
moderating role of media sentiments. It also provides theoretical and policy
enlightenment for rethinking the behavior logic of local government and
solving the dilemma of local government environmental governance.
competition pressure, public value conflict, media sentiment, environmental
governance performance
Competition among local governments offers a vital angle to understanding
local governments’ interactions (Breton, 1998) and analyzing decision-mak-
ing preferences by local governments (Tiebout, 1956). Especially in the study
of environmental governance, the economic competition among local gov-
ernments is an important factor that cannot be ignored. According to “race to
the bottom” theory, local governments will likely implement more lenient
environmental standards than neighboring areas to attract production factors
for more significant development advantages (Hille, 2018; Konisky, 2007;
Konisky & Woods, 2010; Madsen, 2009; Woods, 2006). These attempts
would further deteriorate regional ecology. Given the undeniable significance
of environmental governance today, will the actual situation be as simple as
what “race to the bottom” describes? Do local governments truly loosen their
regulatory grips in the economic race? These questions deserve more focus,
examination, and scrutiny.
Recently, countries worldwide have paid increasing attention to environ-
mental protection and sustainable development. Especially in China, the
importance and seriousness of environmental governance have been raised to
an unprecedented level. China’s Central Government has launched an
“Environmental Protection Storm,” manifested by such policies as “Central
Environmental Protection Inspector,” “Lifelong Accountability,” “Military
Order,” and “Target Responsibility Contracts.” In the face of increasingly
826 Administration & Society 55(5)
stringent supervision, it is undesirable for local governments to pursue com-
petitive economic advantages and loosen environmental regulations blindly
because the one-vote veto regime of the ecological environment will directly
affect the promotion of local officials (Guan, 2020; Zhang, 2021), which is a
high price for them to pay. Meanwhile, local governments are also unwilling
to pursue strict environmental regulations blindly and cause themselves to
lag in economic competition, which further lets their production factors flow
into adjacent areas (Cao et al., 2022; Woods, 2006) and put themselves at risk
of being surpassed by surrounding cities. In sum, local governments are in a
dilemma at this stage. Because of this dilemma, the relationship between
competition among local governments and environmental governance has
become subtle and complex. Local governments’ behavioral logic has become
too complicated to be explained by “race to the bottom,” thus the need for
new theories urgently to reexamine the relationship between government
competition and environmental governance and its underlying mechanism.
This study aim to help researchers and policy-makers scientifically under-
stand the behavioral logic of local governments, optimize environmental
policies, and enhance environmental governance performance.
According to Bozeman (2007), a leading scholar in public value research,
“Public values are those providing normative consensus about the principles
on which governments and policies should be based” (p. 13). They should be
the normative principles, standards, and ideals in public policy formation and
public service provision (Bozeman, 2007, 2019; Fukumoto & Bozeman, 2019;
Jørgensen & Bozeman, 2007). Public value guides the behavior and decision-
making of government agencies and public servants (Andersen et al., 2012;
Guan et al., 2021) and gives meaning, direction, and legitimacy to collective
action (Guan et al., 2021). It also determines the goals and results the govern-
ment wants to pursue (De Graaf & Van der Wal, 2017). However, the diversi-
fication and incommensurability of public value will send conflicting signals
to local governments about “what to do and what not to do” and “how to do
and should not do” (De Graaf et al., 2016; Guan et al., 2021; Nabatchi, 2018).
Public value conflicts are extremely common in formulating and implement-
ing public policies (De Graaf et al., 2016; Fukumoto & Bozeman, 2019;
Jaspers & Steen, 2019). With the government being the main body of public
decision-making, it will recognize or prefer more than one public value in
most cases (Guan et al., 2021; X. Wang & Wang, 2020). When diversified
public values are incompatible, irreconcilable, or cannot be realized simulta-
neously, public value conflict occurs (De Graaf & Meijer, 2019; De Graaf &
Paanakker, 2015; Fukumoto & Bozeman, 2019). Being forced to balance and
choose between competing and irreconcilable public values will make envi-
ronmental governance a wicked problem. Such wicked problems caused by

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