Service Cynicism: How Civic Disengagement Develops

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats


Citation Stats


<jats:p> How does civic disengagement develop? This article examines the theory that the dissatisfaction and disengagement citizens develop toward one government agency can extend to an alternative agency. Leveraging police precinct-level data on 311 calls and criminal complaints from 2004 to 2012 in New York City, it investigates whether government responsiveness to municipal issues predicts citizens’ willingness to submit criminal complaints to the police. The study finds that predictors of disengagement with law enforcement extend beyond negative interactions with law enforcement alone. Rather, the time it takes local government officials to fix a 311 request for services, such as filling potholes and abating noise, shapes the likelihood that residents will file misdemeanor criminal complaints. Thus policymakers must account for the policy environment beyond their agency’s domain to alleviate citizens’ dissatisfaction and disengagement with government overall. </jats:p>





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Cheng, T, and S Liu (2018). Service Cynicism: How Civic Disengagement Develops. Politics & Society, 46(1). pp. 101–129. 10.1177/0032329218755749 Retrieved from

This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise. To cite this article, please review & use the official citation provided by the journal.



Tony Cheng

Assistant Professor of Sociology

I study how strategies of state legitimation shape urban inequality, with a particular interest in the politics and inequalities of policing. My forthcoming book “The Policing Machine: Enforcement, Endorsements, & the Illusion of Public Input” (2024, University of Chicago Press) is about how police resist institutional reforms by cultivating political capital from the community constituents they empower.

My research has appeared in the American Journal of Sociology, Criminology, Social Problems, Law & Society Review, Criminology & Public Policy, City & Community, and Politics & Society. It has won awards from the American Sociological Association, American Society of Criminology, Law & Society Association, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. I have a Sociology PhD from Yale University and a J.D. from NYU Law School. Previously, I was an Assistant Professor in UC Irvine’s Department of Criminology, Law & Society.

Personal website: 


Shelley Liu

Assistant Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

Shelley Liu is an assistant professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy. Her primary research and teaching focuses on issues relating to conflict, development, and state-building in fragile political contexts. Her ongoing research projects examine (1) how war shapes politics and development, (2) citizen agency in state legibility projects, and (3) the determinants of polarization, politicization, and disengagement.  Liu's research has been published in the American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Peace Research, PLOS ONE, Political Science Research and Methods, Politics & Society, and World Politics. 

Prior to joining Duke faculty, Liu was an assistant professor at UC Berkeley, Goldman School of Public Policy. She holds a PhD in government from Harvard University (2020). 

Unless otherwise indicated, scholarly articles published by Duke faculty members are made available here with a CC-BY-NC (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial) license, as enabled by the Duke Open Access Policy. If you wish to use the materials in ways not already permitted under CC-BY-NC, please consult the copyright owner. Other materials are made available here through the author’s grant of a non-exclusive license to make their work openly accessible.