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: Locally Targeted
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? Broker Cooperation in Clientelist Exchanges

In many democratic contexts, politicians prioritize the targeted distribution of resources in order to maintain voter loyalty. However, public goods are largely underprovided. Why does reliance on targeted benefits often coincide with the underprovision of resources? I argue that politicians allocate resources based on the likelihood that they will receive credit from their broker. I use a signaling model in order to isolate the relationship between the national politician and their broker and find that ambitious brokers are more likely to attribute credit to national politicians than unambitious brokers. However, in many contexts, national politicians cannot differentiate between broker types because unambitious brokers will mimic ambitious brokers in order to receive additional benefits. As a result, national politicians will moderate their use of targeted benefits in order to maximize their likelihood of receiving credit for their targeted benefits. I explore the results of this model using the case of Colombia.

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Additional Research


Who Gets Credit? Citizen Responses to Local Public Goods

In decentralized systems, citizens struggle to properly identify which level of government is responsible for providing different local goods. This inability to attribute responsibility creates challenges for electoral accountability. Who should citizens reward for providing local goods? Understanding to whom citizens assign credit is particularly important in the context of weak political parties. When parties are strong, the literature has shown that national politicians will tend to assign goods to areas controlled by their co-partisans. In these cases, the party will get credit, benefiting politicians at both levels. Where parties are weak, however, party identification is less meaningful. As a result, national level politicians may secure local goods for areas that are not controlled by co-partisans. When citizens cannot reward the party, do they reward the local or national politician? 
    In this paper, I argue that citizens perceptions of who should receive credit and be rewarded for local improvements depends on signals from their local-level politician. Thus, who citizens assign credit to, and whether this affects voting behavior, will change based on how local politicians signal information about responsibility. I ran a vignette survey experiment in Colombia focused on credit attribution and voter behavior. I find that citizens are more likely to properly assign credit when the local politician signals that a national politician helped secure a local good. When citizens receive this information, they expect the vote share of a national politician to increase, but they do not expect changes in vote share for local-level politicians.

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.