Democracy under High Inequality: Political Participation and Public Goods
Francesc Amat (IPEG-UPF)
Contrary to the view that inequality reduces turnout, political participation among low income voters is higher in democracies with very high levels of inequality and intermediate levels of state capacity. We address this puzzle by analyzing the link between political mobilization and budget allocations at different levels of inequality and state capacity. Under high inequality and low levels of capacity, parties find it optimal to mobilize low income voters via targeted goods. But as inequality decreases and capacity increases, clientelism becomes less effective a tool for voters' mobilization. To evaluate the implications of this argument we exploit a quasi-experiment, namely the anti-corruption audits by the Brazilian federal government on its municipalities. We show that an exogenous increase in monitoring effort by the state breaks the clintelistic equilibrium, leading to a joint reduction in the likelihood of re-election by incumbents, the turnout rates, and the provision of targeted goods at the local level. We explore the mechanism in detail and show that the sudden stop in the workings of the clientelistic machine took place most visibly in rural areas and in areas with greater prevalence of low education. These are the areas in which the demobilization effect triggered by the exposure of the audits emerges most strongly. Our findings suggest that an increase in the monitoring ability of the state against corruption reduce subsequent budgetary efforts in public goods whose budgets can be manipulated politically, particularly under conditions of high inequality and high clientelism.
Francesc Amat holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Oxford (Nuffield College). He is Assistant Professor at the Institute for Political Economy and Goveranance (IPEG), and Associate Member of the Juan March Institute in Madrid. His research and teaching interests are Comparative Politics and Political Economy.
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