Catalyst or Cause? Legislation and the Demise of Machine Politics in Britain and the United States. Legislative Studies Quarterly November 2014, co-authored with Avinash Dixit and Susan Stokes
In the 19th century, British and American parties competed by hiring electoral agents to bribe and treat voters. British parties abruptly abandoned this practice in the 1880s. The conventional explanation is that legislation put an end to agent-mediated distribution. But this explanation leaves many questions unanswered. Why did the parties use agents for decades, even though they imposed great expense on candidates and were viewed as untrustworthy? And why, after decades of half-hearted reforms, did the House of Commons pass effective anti-bribery reforms only in 1883? In our formal model, parties hire agents to solve information problems, but agent-mediated distribution can be collectively sub-optimal. Legislation can serve as a credibility device for shifting to less costly strategies. (Paper) (Mathematical Appendix)
Cultivating Effective Brokers: A Party Leader's Dilemma. British Journal of Political Science 2015
Political machines dominate many electoral democracies. Scholars argue that local party members, commonly called brokers, are crucial to the success of machines. This paper enhances our understanding of machines by developing a formal model that reveals how party leaders extract services from brokers. The model also shows that leaders of machines face a dilemma: they need effective brokers, but these brokers create vulnerabilities that can ultimately restrict the party's vote share, and even cause electoral loss. So in addition to highlighting electoral strengths of political machines, this paper reveals their organizational vulnerabilities. This argument is evaluated with a novel survey experiment from Argentina. The survey is the first to draw upon a probability sample of brokers in any country. (Paper)
Stealing for the Party: Brokers and Competitive Distribution in Argentina (with Mariela Szwarcberg)
Abstract: Party brokers make clientelism work by ensuring that voters who receive goods vote for the machine. Yet, in cases where brokers prefer to hoard goods for themselves than helping their party to win elections, party bosses face a principal-agent problem. We argue that party bosses minimize the principal-agent problem by forcing brokers to compete to mobilize voters. We develop a formal model to examine the internal organization and electoral strategies of party machines, and test the implications with original survey data from Argentina. We find that intra-party competition enhances the electoral efficiency of political machines. (Working Paper)
The Mayor's Panopticon: Broker Effort and Party Dominance
Scholars argue that clientelism facilitated a transition from populism to neoliberalism by helping political parties that implemented this shift retain the support of poor voters. My paper provides additional theoretical insight into this argument by focusing on the local brokers employed by these parties. A crux of a clientelist party's dominance is its ability to transform each broker's pursuit of their individual power and career advancement into electoral strength for the party. Since brokers often pursue narrow career concerns instead of broad policy goals, they are amenable to policy shifts from populism to neoliberalism. But brokers also constitute a large class of powerful actors who have a deep stake in retaining a system of mediated distribution of state resources. Party leaders who rely on brokers may have less autonomy to pass reforms that challenge this mediation. This theory is evaluated with original survey data, original fieldwork, and secondary literature.