Political Brokers: Partisans or Agents? Evidence from the Mexican Teacher’s Union

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Political Brokers: Partisans or Agents? Evidence from the Mexican Teacher’s Union“.

Political Brokers: Partisans or Agents? Evidence from the Mexican Teacher's UnionIn many developing countries, politicians and political parties rely on political brokers as crucial intermediaries with voters. However, we have little understanding of the drivers of brokers’ effort.

This paper theorizes that there are two main drivers of such effort. First, parties often rely on monitoring to either sanction brokers who shirk or reward those who effectively mobilize voters. Second, even absent monitoring, brokers may be motivated to mobilize voters due to a partisan attachment originating from ideological ties or personal material interests in the success of the party.

We use the Mexican National Educational Workers Union (SNTE), the largest union in Latin America to highlight the implications of our theory. There is widespread anecdotal evidence that the SNTE operates as a political machine, using thousands of teachers as political brokers to mobilize voters to support aligned candidates. SNTE’s efficacy as a political machine may originate from both the historical attachment of its members to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and from the control its leaders exerted over teachers via incentives and monitoring. This makes it an ideal organization to test the implications of our theory.

We first estimate the electoral impact of the SNTE machine on electoral outcomes. To that end, we use variation over time in the alliances between the SNTE leadership and different parties for specific offices. Starting in 2005 the SNTE created its own party – the New Alliance Party (PANAL) – putting forward its own candidates for congressional and presidential elections. However, for the presidential races–in which the PANAL stands no chance of success–it has unofficially forged alliances with other parties, exchanging the mobilization efforts of its teachers for political influence and other rents. Second, we also exploit variation in the location of polling stations–particularly, whether they are located in schools–since this facilitates the role of teachers as political brokers in various ways.

We find that precinct-level vote aggregates are more likely to reflect the SNTE’s political alliances whenever the polling station is located in a school. We show that these estimates capture the role of teachers as political brokers and rule out alternative explanations driven by possibly confounding characteristics of voters or polling stations located in schools.

Next, we explore the different drivers of SNTE’s efficacy as an electoral machine. First, we find no evidence that an additional polling station in a precinct, which facilitates the ability of the SNTE to monitor the efforts of its teachers, affects our estimates of the SNTE’s electoral impact. This suggests that monitoring is unlikely to explain the effectiveness of SNTE teachers as political brokers. Second, we find no electoral impact of the SNTE in 2006 when the SNTE supported the presidential candidate of the National Action Party, a party with which teachers have never shared any attachment. Thus, our results point to partisan attachment as a critical driver of broker’s effort in the particular case of the SNTE.

Understanding the ultimate drivers of brokers’ efforts is essential to appreciating the electoral impact of various political machines as well as their importance over time. For example, it may help explain the survival and persistent strength of political machines that are traditionally attached to particular parties, even in contexts where those parties lose incumbency. Despite gaining access to resources to incentivize political brokers, newly elected parties may find it very hard to co-opt or gain their support if the brokers have traditionally been attached to other parties.

About the Authors: Horacio Larreguy is an Associate Professor of Government at Harvard University, Cesar E. Montiel Olea is graduate student in the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University, and Pablo Querubín is Assistant Professor of Politics and Economics at New York University. Their research “Political Brokers: Partisans or Agents? Evidence from the Mexican Teacher’s Union” is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.



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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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