Why Some Politicians Stop Buying Votes

by John Sides on May 18, 2013 · 3 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Comparative Politics,National Science Foundation

The next installment in this week’s presentation of NSF-funded research is this piece from Brown University political scientist Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro.  The importance of the piece is straightforward: vote-buying is alive and well in many countries—including in Latin America, which Weitz-Shapiro focuses on—and the practice subverts democracy in various ways.  So what might lead Latin American politicians to reject this practice?  Weitz-Shapiro provided this summary of her research:

While the practice of buying votes with public goods and services (sometimes known as “patronage” or “clientelism”) has declined in the United States, it is alive and well in many parts of Latin America. But not all public officials rely on patronage.  This study details the circumstances in which city mayors in Latin America will opt out of vote buying.  Two conditions are necessary to get public officials to reject patronage.  First the community must have a large share of higher income voters and second the offices must be politically competitive.  Higher local income means that more voters dislike patronage.  Intense political competition leads politicians to be responsive to these higher income voters. Absent these conditions, clientelism will be common.

Where patronage or clientelism persists, policies are perverted, ballot secrecy is put in doubt, and voters may become disillusioned with democracy.  Latin America has seen some reversals of democracy in recent years, which makes it especially important to understand conditions that may increase the risk of such reversals.


I’d also note that better-functioning governments in places like Latin America serve the economic and national security interests of the United States.

[For more NSF-funded research recently published in the American Journal of Political Science, see here, here, here, and here.]

{ 3 comments }

Jeff May 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm

How about a statistical analysis of the ratio of worthless political science papers to the worthwhile ones? Is political science any better or worse than other disciplines (economics comes to mind with my best charitable estimate of maybe 1/1,000,0o0 worthwhile to worthless)? I may be slightly exaggerating for effect, but I hope you you get the point.

John Sides May 19, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Jeff: I would be delighted to provide such an analysis, as soon as you provide a universally accepted definition of “worthwhile” and “worthless.”

Jeff May 21, 2013 at 10:36 am

A universally accepted definition of worthwhile and worthless? Do I feel some resistance here? : )

Here is one idea: Select the most prominent journals in the field, take all the articles published in these journals during a certain time span (I don’t know of any journals and how long they have been in business, but that is where your expertise comes in), then take a random but large sample of the field members, and ask them to rate these papers on a scale (1 to 5, 1 to 10, whatever the accepted practice is). Then I would look at the distribution of grades.

Or how about this: Ask a large sample of people in the field to list the top 100 books in the field that come to their mind as being important for anybody in the field to have read, and then compare the aggregate list to that to all the books that have been published in the field, say since 1945, or whatever reference period we decide to choose.

I have also heard of studies done of the most quoted articles. We could use these as a basis for analysis.

Here is another idea: http://youtu.be/InJDLLbK0zs

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