Dissertation Project

This project analyzes the effect of weak party systems on the nature of clientelism. I argue that when political parties lack the capacity to select and monitor party brokers, national legislators will use mayors as brokers in order to capture local voter networks. I use a formal model in order to predict when mayors will send the signal that they use clientelism for secure voter networks and when they will be reliable brokers for national legislators. I test this model in the context of Colombia. I use a Bayesian mixed-membership model in order to estimate the prevalence of clientelism at the municipal level. I then conduct a large-N analysis of municipalities on how many club goods projects are contracted and the discretionary transfers received. Finally, I use qualitative data from interviews conducted with mayors, legislators, and local bureaucrats from July-December 2018.


Measuring Local-Level Clientelism: A Bayesian Mixed-Membership Approach

Scholars of distributive politics often discuss the importance of the use of clientelism. However, since clientelist exchanges occur “under the table”, we lack strong observational data to estimate the actual prevalence of clientelism. The current solution is to use survey experiments designed to elicit sensitive information in order to create population-level estimates.This measurement strategy, however, does not permit us to estimate within-country variation in the use of clientelism. In order to address this challenge, I propose estimating local-level clientelism using a Bayesian Mixed-Membership model. Using data from Colombia on the employees who are employed as temporary teachers, I model whether the teachers are hired based on their meritocratic qualifications or to fulfill political aims,  Specifically, I consider the type of vacancy the teacher fills, the level of education the teacher has, whether their education aligns with what they are teaching, where the school is located within the municipality, how the teacher is paid, and any bonuses received. I use these municipal hiring patterns to estimate the presence of clientelism at the municipal level. These estimates align with survey questions from the same time period. 

For a Working Paper, click here

Who Gets the Goods: Club Goods Provision in Weak Party Systems

How do politicians strategically allocate funds for political gain in the context of weak political parties? In much of the literature on clientelism, political parties play an instrumental role in selecting reliable brokers who can help translate goods into votes. However, in many democracies, political parties lack the internal capacity to build and maintain clientelist networks. I argue that when parties cannot oversee clientelist machines, national politicians will use their relationships with local politicians to determine where to allocate discretionary funds in the form of club goods. I argue that regardless of the political party in office, national politicians are more likely to target municipalities where mayors have clientelist networks in place. I test this argument in Colombia. Using a Bayesian Mixed-Membership model, I estimate municipal-level clientelism. I find that municipalities with higher levels of clientelism are likely to receive more club goods in the form of development projects.

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When do Club Goods Buy Votes? Mayoral Cooperation in Clientelist Exchanges

In weak party systems, politicians that use clientelist strategies are tasked with the challenge of finding their own brokers in order to help them reach citizens. How do these politicians, who cannot use party identity as an information shortcut to help them select brokers, determine who will reliably help deliver votes? In this paper, I develop a theory arguing that, under certain conditions, legislators can use mayors as brokers to distribute club goods benefits. Mayors can serve as effective brokers because of their relationships with voters and their knowledge of local conditions. However, mayors may also have incentives to claim credit for club goods rather than use these benefits to deliver votes for the legislator. I use a signaling model to determine when it is rational for legislators to use mayors as brokers, despite the inherent risk in selecting politicians with their own incentives. Mayors use their own preexisting voter networks to signal whether they have ambition to run for higher office in the future. The national legislator will then decide whether or not to use a mayor as a broker by providing a benefit. When the cost of network-building is non-trivial, it is possible for legislators to identify which mayors are ambitious and, as a result, are more likely to attribute credit. As a result, national politicians will moderate their use of benefits, distributing resources non-uniformly across their geographic constituency, in order to maximize their likelihood of receiving credit. This finding helps explain the underprovision of resources in areas of need. I explore the results of this model using the case of Colombia.

For a Working Paper, click here

Additional Research


Winning the Votes: Voters Responses to Club Goods Clientelism

Are citizens more likely to vote for legislators who provide club goods? I argue that citizens require signals from local politicians about who is responsible for local goods in order to properly attribute credit or for legislators to receive electoral returns for providing club goods. I run a vignette survey experiment on over 2000 citizens in Colombia and find that citizens who receive signals about national-legislators roles in providing local goods are more likely to see the legislator is responsible and believe the legislators vote-share will improve.

Testing the Effects of Nationally Mandated Participatory Reforms

Coauthored with Stephanie McNulty, Franklin and Marshall College 

Do participatory governance reform lead to increased citizen participation, improved accountability, and reduced clientelism? As participatory democratic institutions emerge around the world, we still know too little about their potential to impact democracy and governance in the developing world. This article explores these issues though the use of an original database of one hundred and twenty five countries in the developing world, which captures eighteen cases of nationally mandated participatory reforms passed and implemented between 1985 and 2015. The analysis suggests that nationally mandated participatory reforms do engage citizens more effectively in public-policy decision-making processes and can, especially in weakly decentralized environments, improve accountability. However, they do not curb clientelism, rather, they open up new venues for particularistic spending in subnational governments. Importantly, as the degree of decentralization increases, positive effects on participation and accountability get smaller and smaller. This suggests that these venues for participation may be most important in weakly decentralized contexts, where few additional means for effective participation exist in local and regional governments. In highly decentralized contexts, alternative means for reducing clientelism, increasing accountability, and even engaging citizens in decision-making will probably be more effective.

New Orleans, Louisiana

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