Working papers

Electoral systems, competition, and incentives for corruption


What is the effect of electoral rules on political corruption? While the influence of electoral systems on accountability and representation has been widely studied, the link between electoral systems and corruption remains sparse. This paper develops a model for the interplay between corruption and electoral rules, considering the incentives for challengers to expose the corruption undertaken by the incumbents. I identify two major components: first, rules that increase competition create incentives for free-riding, as challengers would prefer that other challengers pay the cost of exposure. Second, larger district sizes create coordination problems, as the same incumbent may be overexposed, while others were not exposed at all. These characteristics make a mix of high competitiveness and PR the worst system regarding incentives for corruption. I show that these predictions hold empirically using quasi-experimental data from Brazilian municipalities. This study has implications for the design of electoral institutions.


Legislature size and welfare: evidence from Brazil (with G. Cepaluni)


What is the effect of legislature size on public service provision? While most papers relate legislature size with representation and government expenditure, the welfare implications of larger legislatures remain sparse. In this paper, we propose and test a theory that considers the political motivations behind larger chambers. We argue that services that voters want and legislators can target to their constituencies should improve with more legislators. To test our theory, we study exogenous changes in city-council size in Brazil between 2005 and 2008. Larger council size has a null effect on education quality and preventive health care but significantly improves infant mortality and primary school enrollment. To investigate the mechanism, we surveyed former councilors and collected 346,553 bills proposed in the period. Our results show that councilors prefer to provide services that voters value and that are targetable. This paper has implications for the design of legislative institutions.

Predatory elections: how norms of democracy and the rural economy incentivize electoral violence and fraud (with R. Sexton)


In this paper, we present a formal theory of captured electoral democracy in which local bosses or caudillos in peripheral regions use violence and/or fraud deliver votes for the ruling party in exchange for wide authority to extract economic rents between elections. This electoral pressure incentivizes citizens to evade the local agents of the state, but their capacity to do so depends on the viability of their outside “subsistence” option. We empirically test and find support for the theory in two highly divergent cases: Paraguay and Afghanistan. Using exogenous variation in drought conditions, we show that a strong outside option for citizen dramatically increases the level of electoral fraud in ruling party vote totals, while decreasing the level of violent coercion voters are exposed to. These results suggest that there is a dark side to international norms of democracy in weakly institutionalized settings: when economic times are tough for rural voters, elections expose them to increased violence, without any real chance to affect the outcome of the election.

Latin American elites favor polycentric governance in climate change agreements (with D. Freire and D. Skarbek)


Scholars and policy-makers generally assume that climate change mitigation requires global scale governance. However, the international provision of public goods is particularly susceptible to free riders and inadequate monitoring. Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom argued that a decentralized approach to climate governance might be able to address these issues by fostering trust among members of the civil society and generating the local knowledge necessary to effectively implement climate policies. Here we run a conjoint experiment with elite members of 10 Latin American countries and ask respondents to evaluate 6,000 possible climate change agreements that vary across six dimensions. We find that Latin American elites strongly prefer polycentric regimes to centralized ones, and the result is robust across countries and elite types. These findings not only suggest novel ways to craft democratic climate change mitigation agreements, but also offer new insights on how to integrate interventions at the local and international levels.


Investment capacity and the electoral marketplace: evidence from Brazil (with V. Araújo, M. Izumi, and F. Limongi)


The importance of money in elections is a hallmark of contemporary democracies. In this paper, we study how investment capacity, defined as the resources remaining after the municipality perform the mandatory expenditures, influences elections in Brazil. We theorize that when a politician wins the election in a low investment capacity municipality, this generates commitment problems, as new mayors are unable to reward the firms that contributed to their campaigns, influencing the next elections. We test these claims by considering a close-elections regression discontinuity design coupled with heterogeneous quantile effects for Brazilian municipalities between 2000 and 2012. We find that incumbent mayors in towns with low investment capacity receive less campaign donation afterward and are more disadvantaged in their reelection contests. The results are robust to design variations and changes in party labels or mayoral characteristics. Our findings have implications for the influence of money on politics in democratic countries.



Work in Progress

International institutions and rogue states deterrence (with C. Hafer)

un_sec_council_by_neptuulWhat is the effect of International Institutions on Rogue State’s deterrence? While some policymakers believe that institutions like the UN mostly provide the Rogue States information and time to take their actions, others advocate that they may create effective means to deter and slow down the Rogue States. In this paper, we develop a model containing two critical features in the Rogue States deterrence interaction. First, the fact that countries have incomplete information about the resolve the Rogue State has to carry on with the aggression. Second, those countries have incomplete information about how much the other countries are being harmed by the Rogue State’s actions. We show that all players, regardless of their types, prefer some form of an international institution that no institutions. However, there is no consensus on which institution countries should use. We derive the institutional setting that generates the maximum ex-ante level of deterrence, and we show that Rogue State’s aggressions are monotonic in the level of deterrence. This implies that conditional on fighting, the fights are more costly the higher the deterrence levels. Our results have implications for the design of international security institutions.


Incentives for preventive health care provision (with D. Freire)

aedesMosquito-borne diseases are among the leading causes of death in humans. The recent Zika virus epidemics in Brazil highlight the dangers of the Aedes Aegypti, especially for infants and the pregnant woman. Since the efforts to combat the outbreak are usually driven by community-based health interventions, we propose a field experiment to measure how to optimally incentivize the community health care agents in Brazil. The experiment will consist of hired and trained subjects to visit houses and help residents to identify Aedes Aegypti breeding sites. We will randomly assign performance monetary rewards and pro-social incentives to subjects. Their performance will be monitored using cell phone data and position. After the intervention, we will apply a post-treatment survey, and during six months we will monitor the incidence of diseases transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti (mainly Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya). Our goal is to measure the impact of the overall intervention, and also to find the optimal combination of incentives to maximize the benefits of these policies.


Legislative reapportionment and voting patterns: comparative evidence from Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia


This paper investigates the effects of reapportioning the legislative seats within provinces, allowing a legislator to represent the same number of voters all across the country. We suggest two distinct mechanisms under which representation may influence legislative behavior: parochial behavior and differential party penetration in provinces. To test our theory, we consider the legislative voting when we reapportion the lower houses of Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia. We find that the reapportionment effects are negligible in Brazil while being stronger in Argentina and Colombia. The reason for Colombia is the regional party system while in Argentina, both regional parties and local interest representation. Brazil, however, has a more nationalized party system and a centralized coalition formation. We interpret these results pointing to different degrees of system capturing within the three countries. This paper has implications for the design of legislative bodies in weakly institutionalized democracies.

Institutional determinants of democratic survival

corrupchargeHow institutions influence the survival of democracies? In this paper, I consider a model of democracy that incorporates institutional features in the classical income redistribution models. The paper starts with a moderator analysis that shows a strong influence of institutions on the income-democracy relationship. In the theoretical model I consider three components that moderate the distribution tensions: first, redistributive inefficiencies, such as leakage in taxation, income misreporting, corruption, or dead-weight losses; second, the possibility of electoral manipulation, such as frauds, political violence, party bans, and legal restrictions to political participation; finally, legal binding limitations on the redistributive capability, such as the existence of an independent judiciary that oversees the government decisions. I show that inefficiencies and electoral manipulation increase the chances of a democratic breakdown while some levels of institutional checks and balances may be beneficial for democratic survival. This paper has implications for understanding the recent democratic backsliding in developing democracies around the world.


Bottom-Up Accountability and Public Service Provision: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Brazil (with D. Freire and M. Galdino)

tdp01Does grassroots participation improve public service delivery? We study the effect of a mobile phone application that allows citizens to monitor school construction projects in Brazilian municipalities. The app provides a platform where users can submit photos of construction sites, consult independent engineers, and contact the mayor’s office about project delays. Our results show that the app has a null impact on the school construction outcomes. Additionally, we find that politicians are unresponsive to individual requests. The results question the impact of local monitoring on public service performance and suggest that interventions targeted at other groups may produce better policy outcomes.