Author Summary: Disloyal Brokers and Weak Parties

By Lucas M. Novaes 

AJPS - Disloyal Brokers and Weak PartiesMost parties in the developing world are weak. Even after more than three decades after the Third Wave of Democratization, many parties still lack partisans, stable local outposts, or a clear policy platform. To understand why parties are fragile, I conduct an analysis of one fundamental piece of the party machinery, the political broker, and hypothesize that when they act as free agents parties are electorally fragile.

Parties may not have means to establish a connection to voters, but in many places parties can “hire” community organizers, ethnic chiefs, local bureaucrats, neighborhood leaders, patrons, caciques, local politicians, and other notables to act as brokers and close the gap between party politicians and voters. Throughout the years, these agents cultivate a private and non-partisan network of voters which they can influence, or a module of individuals that can be electorally mobilized to vote or not for a particular party. Parties can give these notables resources, money, or nominations, and in exchange receive an entire constituency supporting party candidates at the election day. Thus, even without direct linkages to voters, politicians running for offices above the local level can acquire enough votes to win the election by building a modular party with modules of several different brokers.

The problem of the modular party is that brokers can be disloyal. Since modules and brokers are non-partisans, and there may be more than one party that needs brokers to mobilize voters, agents are free to switch allegiances whenever they receive a more profitable proposal for the brokerage they perform. The article shows that broker disloyalty undermines party performance. Using the fragmented Brazilian party system as testing ground, I find that disloyalty in the form of party switching of mayoral candidates, who act as brokers for party candidates, causes parties to receive less votes for their deputies. Natural experiments and an unexpected, temporary institutional reform that discouraged disloyalty for brokers demonstrate this relationship.

The results stress that studying brokers is important to understand why parties in the developing world remain weak. How can parties establish a brand, invest in party organization, or create partisans when their point of contact to voters may change parties, and offer a bloc of former supporters to the competition? Making disloyalty less advantageous to brokers may be a necessary first step towards building strong parties.

About the Author: Lucas M. Novaes is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France. Novaes’ article “Disloyal Brokers and Weak Parties” 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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