Comparative Politics and Political Economy

Number of Legislators, Bargaining Costs, and Local Public Goods Provision

What is the effect of the number of legislators on public service provision? Despite the importance of institution designs for young democracies, little is known about the particular features that may help improve welfare. This paper uses a formal model to show how increasing legislature size may affect service provision. I show that changes in bargaining costs depend on whether the additional legislator shares the Executive’s party affiliation: More opposition members reduce the Executive’s equilibrium public goods provision, while more government-aligned members increase it. I test this theory by exploiting sharp discontinuities in city council size in Brazil. I show that an additional city councilor has a 91% chance of belonging to the mayoral coalition, significantly improving primary school enrollment and infant mortality. To investigate the mechanism, I surveyed former councilors and analyzed 346,553 bills proposed between 2005 and 2008. This paper has implications for the design of representative institutions.

The Effect of Legislature Size on Public Spending: A Meta-Analysis (with H. Alptekin, D. Freire, and C. Roman) Forthcoming at British Journal of Political Science.

In a seminal article, Weingast et al. (1981) argue that there is a positive relationship between legislature size and inefficiency in public expenditures. Their proposition is currently known as the “law of 1/n” and has been widely debated in political science and public administration. However, recent studies have questioned the validity of the theory. In this letter, we conduct the first meta-analysis that assesses the generality of the “law of 1/n”. Based on a sample of 30 articles, we find no robust evidence for the effect of legislature size on government budgets. Yet the aggregate results show significant heterogeneity. We find moderate support for the “law of 1/n” in unicameral legislatures and in the upper house, but panel/fixed-effects models and regression discontinuity designs reduce public spending estimates. Our results also indicate that proportional representation systems are no more likely to overspend than majoritarian ones.

Replication materials: [link]

Electoral Systems, Competition, and Incentives for Corruption

What are the effects of electoral systems and competition on political corruption? In this paper, I propose a formal model of political corruption where challengers may run anti-corruption campaigns against the incumbents. To understand how institutions and competition affect the results, I study two benchmarks: in the first, called the non-excludable anti-corruption campaign, successful exposure of an incumbent opens her seats to all other competitors. In the second benchmark, the excludable anti-corruption campaign, the politician successfully exposing the corruption signals competence, and voters tend to prefer her vis-a-vis the other challengers. When anti-corruption campaigns are non-excludable, an increase in the number of challengers or incumbents monotonically raises corruption. However, when anti-corruption campaigns are excludable, the number of challengers is endogenously limited. The excludability makes the free-riding in corruption exposure disappear. When I increase the number of incumbents, corruption rises less than in the non-excludable benchmark. These predictions hold empirically using quasi-experimental data from Brazilian and Italian municipalities. This study has implications for the design of electoral institutions and entry barriers in democratic elections.

Bottom-up Accountability and Public Service Provision: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Brazil (with D. Freire and M. Galdino) Research and Politics 7(2) 2020.

Does local oversight 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 prompts users to submit data about construction sites, sends such crowdsourced information to independent engineers, and contacts the mayors’ offices about project delays. Our results show that the app has a null impact on school construction indicators. Additionally, we find that politicians are unresponsive to individual requests. The results question the impact of bottom-up monitoring on public service performance and suggest that interventions targeted at other groups, or focused on different issues, may produce better policy outcomes.

Replication Materials: [here] – EGAP Brief: [here] – Twitter Thread: [here]

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.

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.

Financial Incentives and Healthcare Provision: Evidence from an Experimental Aedes aegypti Control Programme in Brazil (w. D. Freire)

Diseases transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, such as chikungunya, dengue, yellow fever, and Zika, continue to affect thousands of people per year. As there are no safe vaccines for most of these infections, insecticide spraying and breeding site elimination are the best means to fight the mosquito. In several developing countries, which host the majority of A. aegypti infections, anti-mosquito campaigns are carried out inconsistently, thus it is crucial to find ways to improve the productivity of healthcare workers in charge of these tasks. We designed a randomised field experiment that provided individual and collective financial incentives to healthcare agents in a Brazilian city, and we tested the effect of monetary rewards on their productivity and on city-level dengue hospitalisations. We find that financial bonuses improved the number of cleaned breeding sites in both treatment groups (individual and team incentives) and that the collective treatment also improved larvae extermination. The impact of our treatment on city-level hospitalisations was not consistent across all specifications. In sum, financial incentives may be used to boost field productivity in anti-A. aegypti programmes, but further research is required to evaluate how healthcare worker productivity impacts dengue outcomes.

Environmental and International Politics

Institutional Design and Elite Support for Climate Policies: Evidence from Latin American Countries (with D. Freire and D. Skarbek). Journal of Experimental Political Science.

Which institutional features do Latin American elites favor for local climate change policies? Climate change mitigation requires active local-level implementation, but it remains unclear which institutional arrangements maximize support for environmental rules. In this paper, we run a conjoint experiment with elite members of 10 Latin American countries and ask respondents to evaluate institutional designs drawn from a pool of 5,500 possible local climate governance arrangements. We find that Latin American elites prefer international organizations to formulate climate policies, support imposing increasing fines on violators, and favor renewing agreements every 5 years. We also find that elites support both international institutions and local courts to mediate conflicts, but they distrust non-governmental organizations and reject informal norms as a means of conflict resolution. Our results identify possible challenges in crafting local climate mitigation policies and offer new insights about how to integrate local and international levels in environmental agreements.

Replication Materials: [here] – Commentary: [here] – Twitter Thread: [here]

Natural Resources and Policy Choices in Latin America (organized with D. Freire and G. França) EKLA – Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung, 2020

Natural Resources and Policy Choices in Latin America provides an in-depth discussion of the challenges of climate mitigation management and the implementation of the 2030 UN agenda in Latin America. The contributors to this volume adopt a multidisciplinary approach to tackle questions of resource governance, conservation, energy transition, and environmental conflict. The book makes a compelling argument for scholars and policy-makers to put environmental problems at the top of their political agendas. We shed light on landmark global initiatives on climate governance and the problems they face, including those of compliance and implementation. While there is no consensus on definite solutions to such complex issues, we provide a useful guide for practitioners and newcomers to think rigorously about them.

PDF: [link] – Mobi (Amazon Fire Format): [link]

Does restricting entry in joint global public goods provision improve welfare? (with C. Hafer)

Why do countries restrict participation in global public goods provision? Current scholarship considers that limiting entry is beneficial, as it may promote more extensive cooperation between participant countries. We propose a model whereby countries share the same evaluation of the public good but a private assessment of the externalities caused by the good. Entry restrictions balance two crucial incentives: the revenue accrued by entry barriers and the decreased investments when fewer countries participate in the provision. We show that when most states have a high externality from the public good, restricting entry is welfare-maximizing because the collected entry fees outweigh the reduction in the entrants’ subsequent investments. However, when most states have a low evaluation of the public good, restricting entry harms welfare because many states will choose not to participate as a result of the entry barrier, and the sum of their foregone contributions more than offsets the entry fees of the remaining participants. This paper has implications for the optimal provision of international public goods.

Nationalist Backlash Against Foreign Climate Shaming (w. G. Fasolin and M. Spektor) Forthcoming at Global Environmental Politics

Should international pro-climate actors speak up against climate rogues? Or do foreign critics risk igniting nationalist backlash against global environmental norms? We explore naming and shaming dynamics in global climate politics by fielding survey experiments to nationally representative samples in Brazil. Our results show that nationalism moderates how mass publics react to foreign climate shaming: individuals who are highly attached to their nation are more likely to reject international criticism than their lowly attached peers. Yet, in contrast to theoretical expectations, we find that nationalist publics express little support for virulent defiance against foreign critics. Our findings hold irrespective of the source of criticism (that is, whether the critic is an allied nation or a geopolitical adversary), and the nature of the critical message (that is, whether the cue is couched in cosmopolitan language or not). These results sound a cautionary note on the belief that liberal internationalists should tread carefully so as not to unadvisedly unleash nationalist, neo-populist, or “antiglobalist” pushback. While pro-climate foreign critics may well bump up against nationalist sentiment in climate rogues no matter who they are or how they speak, climate criticism will not necessarily fuel an all-out backlash against global environmental norms and institutions.

Political Methodology

Estimating Marginal Returns in Multiple Threshold Regression Discontinuity Design

In this paper, I propose a novel estimator for investigating marginal returns in Multiple Threshold Regression Discontinuity Design. The estimator consists in fitting a flexible function in each cutoff of the original regression, then aggregating the thresholds into a bootstrapped sample of regression fits. In the R Package accompanying the estimator, I propose two methods to fit the marginal returns: functional form fit and a fixed-effects fit. In the functional form fit, the user can input a functional form for the marginal effect. In the fixed-effects fit, the fit provides an overall effect plus the marginal changes in each of the cutoffs. I test the estimator using changes in size of municipal city councils in Brazil and Sweden.

Of Nickell Bias and its Cures: Comment on Gaibulloev, Sandler, and Sul (w. N. Beck and J. Katz). Political Analysis 22 (2), 2014.

Gaibulloev, Sandler, and Sul (2014) (here after GSS) present two methodological suggestions for estimating dynamic panel models with fixed effects and provide an empirical application using them. Our interest is only in their methodological suggestions, so we do not discuss the empirical application here. One of their methodological suggestions is that analysts account for cross sectional dependence by adjoining to the model a common factor which relates to events going on in the world that are not explained by the unit-level covariates. This is surely an interesting way to proceed, though we await further evidence on whether the recommended method is superior to standard spatial econometric approach. Since GSS do not discuss this comparison, we do not either, but their approach is clearly of potential interests. (…)

Replication Materials: [here]

Other Research and Publications

The Effect of Budget Amendments in Parliamentary Behavior (with F. Vasselai) Dados 57(3), 2014.

In this article the authors examine whether, between 1996 and 2010, the Executive’s execution of individual amendments proposed by federal deputies to the budget was responsible for increasing the proximity between parliamentary votes and government preferences in roll-calls. The possible influence of such amendments is where scholars still search for a non-partisan, personal and parochial component of the Legislative support of the Executive. However, both the usual defense of this idea as well as its refutation have considerable gaps to be filled, leaving the question unresolved as time as a factor was not considered in tests or because their methodological approaches require adjustments. This investigation addresses these problems by verifying whether the distance between the ideal points of congressmen and of the appointments by the government chief whip in a given year are influenced by the execution of the budget amendments made by deputies – on the same year as well as on previous ones. We propose to model the temporal between amendments and legislative support, correcting serial auto-correlation, controlling for the coalition membership and dealing with the inherent problems of instrumentalization that come with these types of models.

Commentary: [here]

When Political Oligarchies Limit Polarization but Fuel Populism (w. M. Spektor). In Democracies Divided: The Global Challenge of Political Polarization, org. by T. Carothers and A. O’Dohonue. Brookings Institution Press, 2019

Brazil presents a significant puzzle for analysts of polarization. A cursory glance at contemporary Brazilian politics suggests that the country should be a clear-cut case of heightened polarization at both the mass and elite levels. In 2013, millions of Brazilians took to the streets in levels unseen since the country transitioned from authoritarian rule three decades earlier. Widespread citizen anger underpinned the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. Her detractors accused her and her Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores; PT) of concocting a scheme of large-scale graft to rob public coffers, while her supporters denounced impeachment proponents as coup plotters set on kicking the left out of power. The country appeared to be “caught up in the sharpest and most polarizing political crisis in the young democracy’s history.” Moreover, in 2018, the second round of Brazil’s presidential election presented the country with two candidates representing opposing ends of the left-right political spectrum. In the process, traditional centrist parties that had been the hallmark of Brazil’s democratic experience weakened. With the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president in October 2018, Brazilian politics became dominated by a figure who starkly divided public opinion.(…)