We study how representation works in a context where accountability to voters is restricted because of term limits and accountability to parties is limited because of party weakness. Analyzing all Brazilian mayoral elections between 1996 and 2012 using a regression discontinuity design, we show that becoming the incumbent party results in large subsequent electoral losses. We theorize that the presence of term limits, combined with political parties to which politicians are only weakly attached, affects the incentives and behavior of individual politicians in such a way that their parties' suffer systematic losses. A descriptive analysis of an original dataset on the career paths of Brazilian mayors suggests that our assumptions are an accurate description of Brazil's political context, and we find support for three central empirical implications of our theoretical explanation. Moreover, based on an analysis of additional data from Mexico, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, and Colombia, we show that the negative effects found in Brazil also exist in other democracies.
Corruption—the misuse of public office for private or political gain—has a detrimental effect on a variety of economic and political outcomes. Unfortunately, reducing corruption is a difficult task. Persistent differences exist across and even within countries, which unfortunately appear to be quite sticky, which scholars have referred to as the "corruption trap." This trap can be understood as an equilibrium arising from the inability—and unwillingness—of key stakeholders to coordinate on actions that would reduce corruption. A rich literature has focused on coordination challenges among bureaucrats or between bureaucrats and private actors. We argue, however, for the importance of considering political factors in perpetuating these corruption traps. From this perspective, corruption traps can arise from coordination challenges and breakdowns among and between three key sets of political actors: incumbent politicians, the pool of possible political entrants, and voters. There are challenges faced by each set of actors, their interactions, and ways in which these challenges could potentially be overcome. Three particular processes may help or hinder the ability to break out of corruption traps: (1) collective action and coordination among voters, (2) strategic obstruction by incumbents, and (3) mechanisms of political selection and the availability of non-corrupt challengers.
Academics and policymakers recognize that there are serious costs associated with systemic corruption. Stubbornly, many countries or regions remain stuck in a high-corruption equilibrium—a "corruption trap." Most existing theories concentrate on mutually reinforcing expectations of corrupt behavior among a fixed set of bureaucrats or politicians, implying that changing such expectations can lead to lower corruption. We develop models that more fully characterize the political nature of corruption traps by also analyzing the behavior of voters and entrants to politics, as well their interaction with incumbent politicians. We show that corruption traps can arise through strategic behavior of each set of actors, as well as through their interrelations. By linking politician, voter, and entrant behavior, we provide an explanation for why simply trying to change expectations among one set of actors is likely insufficient for eliminating corruption traps.
The article examines the relationship between corruption and voting behavior by defining two distinct channels:pocketbook corruption voting, i.e. how personal experiences with corruption affect voting behavior; andsociotropic corruption voting, i.e. how perceptions of corruption in society do so. Individual and aggregate data from Slovakia fail to support hypotheses that corruption is an undifferentiated valence issue, that it depends on the presence of a viable anti-corruption party, or that voters tolerate (or even prefer) corruption, and support the hypothesis that the importance of each channel depends on thesalienceof each source of corruption and that pocketbook corruption voting prevails unless a credible anti-corruption party shifts media coverage of corruption and activates sociotropic corruption voting. Previous studies may have underestimated the prevalence of corruption voting by not accounting for both channels.