Book Project

Voting Them All Out: When Re-Election Fails to Create Accountability

You can read more about the project here.

Publications

Electoral Dis-connection: The Limits of Re-Election In Contexts of Weak Overall Accountability (Journal of Politics, 83(4):October 2021.)

Holding politicians accountable through re-election has long been a focus of empirical work, yet results are mixed as to whether electoral accountability works in practice. I offer a new theory of voter behavior to explain why electoral accountability may break down. Where voters perceive a greater likelihood of malfeasance in a second term, information about good performance in the first term becomes irrelevant to predicting good performance in the second. Accordingly, voters turn to other accountability institutions for assurance that re-elected incumbents will perform well. I test this argument in the context of mayoral politics in Peru. In a conjoint experiment embedded in an original survey, respondents prefer challengers even when explicitly informed the incumbent performed well, and the effect is strongest among those who doubt good performance will continue if re-elected. Using a regression discontinuity design, I then show that mayors face a significant incumbency disadvantage, and that neither good performance nor voters' access to performance information enables mayors to overcome it. Instead, it is voter trust in accountability institutions that helps attenuate anti-incumbency bias. Together, these results suggest that attempts to improve electoral accountability by expanding voter access to performance information may prove inadequate without strong central-level oversight, and, more broadly, that re-election may fail to generate political accountability when other accountability institutions are weak.

Rewarding Performance in Disaster Response" (with Felipe Livert Aquino and Paola Bordon Tapia), Under Review

Given the increasing frequency of large-scale disasters, managing such emergencies is becoming an important component of politicians’ performance in office. Models of electoral accountability posit that voter

reward and sanctioning in re-elections incentivizes good performance. Yet little accountability research considers this new type of politician responsibility. The few studies examining electoral responses to disasters

do so for one type of disaster at a time, mostly focus on economically advanced countries and, most importantly, tend to study voter responses to the existence of the disaster itself, rather than how politicians

respond to it after the fact. Furthermore, most research examines the national level, but given the structure

of decentralization in the Global South, local-level governments play a key role in responding to disasters by

managing reconstruction and recovery. Our approach addresses each of these gaps by combining local-level electoral returns with detailed data on performance for a variety of natural catastrophes. We find that voters do reward politicians that effectively manage disasters, providing a blueprint for how to best incentivize disaster responsiveness going forward.

How Informational State Capacity Shapes Government Responses to Shocks: Evidence from the COVID-19 Pandemic" (with Michael Harsch and Alexandra Norris)

Though the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed widespread social and economic hardship, recent studies suggest that greater state capacity improved countries’ responses to this public health emergency. We posit that informational state capacity critically shapes governments’ ability to respond to exogenous shocks. We test this proposition by developing a simple, current, and universally applicable measure of informational state capacity. It estimates capacity based on whether countries possess three fundamental types of records, each of which provide governments with crucial information for mounting an effective response to the pandemic: population censuses, vital registries, and agricultural censuses. We use this measure to predict underreporting of COVID-19 cases in the Global South. Our analysis shows the predictive power of our measure: higher informational state capacity in 2019 is associated with significantly lower underreporting of cases in 2020. This study improves our understanding of how states are able to respond effectively to shocks, from pandemics to natural disasters and climate change-induced weather events, while also offering a new indicator to predict gaps in informational state capacity among the most vulnerable states.

"Incumbency and the Gender Gap in Mayoral Politics" (with Audrey Latura)

The fact that women make up less than 50% of elected leaders worldwide has been well documented at most levels of political office.  Supply side theories focus on differential rates of office-seeking between women and men, while demand-side theories consider voters’ lower likelihood of selecting female versus male candidates.  However, few studies in either of these traditions have explicitly considered the supply of, and demand for, female incumbents in contexts of re-election.  We do so at a level of public office that has received little scholarly attention in the gender and representation literature: municipalities in developing nations.  Especially in decentralized, low-income countries, mayors provide crucial public services and act as the frontline of representation for their constituents, making it theoretically and empirically important to understand if, and why, women are disadvantaged when it comes to holding office at this level.  Focusing on Latin America, we first document that a gender gap in political representation does exist at the mayoral level.  Using electoral returns data from multiple electoral cycles in Brazil, Chile, Panama and Peru, we then show that even though female incumbents seek re-election at similar or higher rates than male incumbents, they are far less likely to be re-elected.  Peruvian data allow us to use a regression discontinuity design to more rigorously study incumbency disadvantage, and results suggest women face a greater disadvantage than their male counterparts.  Finally, we use simulation exercises across the four countries to estimate the increase in the number of women elected as mayors if the gender gap in re-election success were overcome.  Overall, our study and results suggest a previously unstudied explanation for the persistent gender gap in political representation. 

Understanding The General Equilibrium Effects Of Compulsory Voting On Policy: Evidence From Peru (with Horacio Larreguy, Miguel Angel Carpio and Beatriz Córdova)

 

There is overwhelming evidence of a positive effect of compulsory voting laws on overall turnout, and that this effect is stronger among uninformed voters. However, findings are mixed on the effects of compulsory voting on partisan voting and policy outcomes. We argue the effects of compulsory voting on candidate realignment across parties explain these mixed findings. In contexts where the return to party labels is not as high, candidate realignment is less likely and political parties are more likely to cater to the new yet relatively uninformed voters that are induced to turn out. However, in contexts where some parties are relatively weak, candidates switch to parties with stronger labels to gain the electoral support of new voters, which likely leads to no change in policy. We present evidence for our theoretical argument by exploiting rich candidate and electoral data and exogenous variation in the timing and level of fines of a compulsory voting law across Peruvian municipalities.

Working Papers

Ongoing Projects

“How Does Citizen Trust in Local Government Change? Exploiting Exogenous Shocks to Mayors’ Budgets”

“Campaign Speech and Local-level Accountability in Rural Politics: A Text Analysis Approach to Mayoral Campaign Platforms”