Dissertation Book Project

My dissertation and book project studies how political accountability operates in settings where institutions and political parties are weak.  Through a detailed sub-national study of mayoral politics in Peru, using an original survey with a conjoint candidate choice experiment, qualitative interviews, and analysis of electoral and census data, I explain when and why re-elections stop working to create electoral accountability.  I argue that ineffective non-electoral oversight institutions lead to persistent poor performance by politicians and a perception of impunity. This generates skepticism about the likelihood of good performance in office if incumbents are granted a second term, because voters question the good intentions of incumbents and perceive that on-the-job learning coupled with low likelihood of punishment generates increasing opportunities for corruption.  Voters respond by tending to prefer challengers even over incumbents who perform well and rejecting the very premise of re-election.  This dynamic suggests that increasing access to information, as standard accountability models posit, will not necessarily lead to better accountability unless enforcement of good performance in office is sufficiently strong.  The findings have important implications for the study of accountability and beyond.  To the extent that voters are unwilling to grant incumbents a second term, politicians have little incentive to excel in office, potentially setting in motion a race to the bottom, with increasingly poor candidates deciding to run and even worse performance in office reinforcing voters' initial inclination to throw them all out.


Electoral Dis-connection: The Limits of Re-Election In Contexts of Weak Overall Accountability (Forthcoming, Journal of Politics)

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.

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.



"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. 

“Disasters and Local-level Electoral Accountability" (with Felipe Livert Aquino and Paola Bordon Tapia)

Given the rising frequency of public emergencies, from health to environmental disasters, managing such crises is increasingly a key domain of politicians’ performance in office. Models of electoral accountability posit that voter reward and sanctioning of politicians in re-elections can incentivize good performance.  Yet the majority of academic research in this area focuses on egregious forms of poor performance, like corruption, or on voter responses to more traditional types of public sector responsibilities, like education, health or social policies.  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 responded to it.  Our approach addresses each of these gaps by combining local-level electoral returns with detailed data on a variety of natural disasters and politicians’ responses to them across three different Latin American countries. Our results suggest that in the case of extreme public emergencies, voters do reward politicians that effectively manage natural disasters, providing a blueprint for how to best incentivize disaster mitigation going forward.

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”