Anti-government protest (March 2015)

Anti-government protest (March 2015)

The Politics of Visibility: Local Electoral Responsiveness in Brazil

Over the past three decades, countries throughout the developing world have devolved power to directly elected local officials. Yet, despite the increasing prevalence and importance of local elections in developing countries, we know little about how they work.

In my book project, I explore how local elections shape the policy-making process in Brazil - one of the most decentralized countries in the world. Specifically, I trace interactions between citizens and politicians through the electoral process: What are citizens' preferences? Do citizens select and sanction local politicians in ways that are consistent with their preferences? And how do local politicians respond to these choices?

I find that information asymmetries at the local level can create biased forms of responsiveness. Voters primarily reward incumbents for visible actions, such as public works projects and capital purchases, which leads politicians to prioritize these actions in office, instead of citizens' preferred policies. Notably, this is the case even when voters select politicians who share their interests and preferences.

To support this argument, I employ a multi-method approach that combines survey analysis, natural experiments, semi-automated text analysis, and archival research. I also draw on several original data sources from Brazil, including a database of 500+ local election surveys, measures of class voting at the local level, and previously unanalyzed party documents.