Able and Mostly Willing: An Empirical Anatomy of Information’s Effect on Voter‐Driven Accountability in Senegal

The forthcoming article “Able and Mostly Willing: An Empirical Anatomy of Information’s Effect on Voter‐Driven Accountability in Senegal” by Abhit Bhandari, Horacio Larreguy and John Marshall is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Electing competent and hard-working politicians is a pillar of democratic governance. It is often hoped that informing voters about their politicians’ performance may help citizens to select high-quality politicians and hold underperforming ones to accountAcademic research has made strides toward causally linking political information and accountability, though the evidence to date remains mixed. On one hand, the recent Metaketa initiative—which coordinated experimental projects in six countries to address this very question—found that making indicators of incumbent performance available to voters had little effect on their beliefs or vote choices. On the other, information’s pro-accountability effects are clearest in studies of broadcast, print, and social media.  

Given the complexity of the theoretical chain linking political information to voter-driven accountability, it is hard to know where the logic of accountability breaks down. Could limited effects be due to difficulties in disseminating information to voters? To voters’ inability or disinterest in processing information? To the lack of relevance of the information to voters? Or perhaps even to voters’ unwillingness to hold politicians to account?  

Furthermore, existing research has focused predominantly on electoral accountability – that is to say whether votes are cast against incumbent politicians that failed to meet expectations and for incumbents that exceeded them. However, citizen interactions with politicians once in office may be just as important, especially in the Global South where interactions with representatives often extend only to the months of an election campaign. Such contact represents a valuable opportunity to communicate an individual’s or community’s information, preferences, and requests to politicians.  

We designed a randomized field experiment around Senegal’s 2017 parliamentary elections to dissect the chain that connects the receipt of incumbent performance information to two forms of accountability: choices at the ballot box and requests of politicians after the electionPartnering with a Senegalese civil society association, we implemented the project across 450 villages in five rural Senegalese districts – places where information about legislators’ performance is otherwise hard to come by. Compounded by Senegal’s party-dominated system where citizens typically vote based on party rather than candidate in parliamentary elections, the low-information environment presented an opportunity to assess whether voters are willing and able to hold politicians to account based on information they receive. 

Over the month preceding the electionnine voters aged 20-38 per village could receive leaflets containing information about MP responsibilities, incumbents’ activity in parliament and local development policy outcomes, and/or information comparing the performance of the current incumbent to the previous one in a given district. To focus on how voters respond to such information upon receiving it, rather than whether the information reached or was in engaged with by voters, enumerators spent up to five minutes explaining the leaflet in person. Via baseline, endline, and follow-up surveys, we measured whether (and when) information impacted voter evaluations of the incumbentefforts to contact politicians, and actual votes in the community. 

Our varied treatment conditions, factorial experimental designs, and extensive measurement of citizen beliefs and behaviors enable us to anatomize the process through which information influences voter-driven accountability. Absent the dissemination challenges that may have affected previous studies, our study is able to examine which types of information voters care about, whether they internalize this information, and how – if at all – they use this information to hold their politicians to account.  

We find that rural Senegalese voters processed performance information in a sophisticated manner vis-à-vis their prior expectations, cared primarily about performance related to local development, and found information that compared their current incumbents with previous incumbents to be most informative. Their more positive evaluations of the best-performing incumbents endured for at least a month after treatmentIn contrast, providing information about legislator duties had little effect on voters’ beliefs or accountability-seeking behavior, suggesting that voters are well aware of politician responsibilities to bring resources back to their community.  

The information campaign also affected electoral and non-electoral efforts to hold incumbents to account. Voters durably requested greater contact with the best-performing politician after the election, and votes for such incumbents increased among likely-voters and the voters who prioritized local projects. In the often tight-knit communities that we studied, disseminating leaflets to nine younger voters was even sufficient to influence polling station level voting outcomes  

Upon receiving information, we conclude that voters are able and mostly willing to use information to hold politicians accountable. When the information provided to them is relevant, voters—even in rural settings characterized by limited access to education and information as well as low levels of political competition, where researchers might have least expected to have observed our resultsseek to hold politicians to account.  

By showing that accountability does not break down with voters in such contexts, which are all too common in the Global South, our findings shift the onus to improve accountability back to governments, donors, and civil society organizations. Such institutions may require more powerful incentives or greater capacity to disseminate accurate and relevant information that reaches a largely receptive electorate. Furthermore, our findings suggest a need for accessible fora through which enthused voters can communicate with their representatives.  

About the Author(s): Abhit Bhandari is Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse at University of Toulouse Capitole, Horacio Larreguy is Associate Professor, Government Department at Harvard University and John Marshall is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at Columbia University. Their research “Able and Mostly Willing: An Empirical Anatomy of Information’s Effect on Voter‐Driven Accountability in Senegal” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Presidential Approval and the Inherited Economy

The forthcoming article “Presidential Approval and the Inherited Economy” by Michael W. Sances is summarized by the author below. 

Who is responsible for the economy when a new leader takes office? While it might seem implausible that first-year presidents have any control over the current economy, I find voters behave as if they do. Analyzing hundreds of polls from the Carter through Obama presidencies, I find voters associate their rating of the economy with their rating of the president’s job performance, even in the president’s first year. Generally speaking, economic ratings and presidential approval begin to be associated about six months into a president’s term – long before the typical president has a chance to enact a budget or other meaningful economic policy. 
Whether they escape responsibility in year one, questions of timing follow leaders throughout their terms and into the next election cycle. In the 2012 election, Republican Mitt Romney argued Barack Obama should, after four years, be held accountable for the still-recovering economy. The idea that longer-serving presidents are more responsible for the economy is intuitive – but again fails to track with how voters behave. In fact, after a slight increase in a president’s second year, I find the economy-approval relationship does not change at all for the remainder of a president’s term. Thus, despite having eight years to enact economic policy, a president at the end of her second term is just as accountable for the economy as a president in her second year. 
Of course, it is possible that subjective ratings of the economy are reflections, not causes, of how voters feel about the president. This is a longstanding concern in the research on presidential approval, and I take several steps to address it in my paper. The main way I do so is with a survey experiment where I leverage the varying tenure of state governors in early 2019. At this time, many states had governors who had just taken office, while others had governors who had been in office several years, so I surveyed voters in all 50 states about their rating of the state economy and of their governor’s performance. 
On this survey, I randomly informed some voters that experts believed their state economy was performing well, while telling others experts thought their state economy was performing poorly. This prime, which by design is unrelated to voters’ pre-existing ratings of their governors, successfully influenced perceptions of the state economy, which in turn influenced governor job approval. Crucially, however, the effect of the prime was evident even for governors who took office weeks earlier, and was no stronger for governors who had been in office for years. 
Previous work has raised concerns that elections cause presidents to focus their effort on improving the election-year economy, rather than the economy throughout their term. My results, while seemingly counter to intuitions about presidential influence, lessen these concerns. If they wish to remain popular – and thus have a chance passing policies, adding to their party’s seats in Congress and the states, and ultimately be re-elected – presidents ignore the non-election year economy at their peril. 

About the Author: Michael W. Sances is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at Temple University. His research “Presidential Approval and the Inherited Economy” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Political Determinants of Economic Exchange: Evidence from a Business Experiment in Senegal

The forthcoming article “Political Determinants of Economic Exchange: Evidence from a Business Experiment in Senegal” by Abhit Bhandari is summarized by the author below. 

In much of the world, who one knows can make a critical difference in the private sector. Where institutional access is difficult and rule of law selectively enforced, the advantages of political connections are especially pronounced. Among other benefits, knowing the right people in power can make it easier to enforce deals against partners who have broken contracts, or make it easier to break contracts without fear of retribution. 

Scholars tend to focus on the value of political connections. But there could be a downside: given that the politically connected can break deals with relative impunity, people may resist doing business with politically connected firms. And within this context of valuable political connections, state institutions like formal, written contracts may be susceptible to similar biases. I advance a theory in this paper arguing that political connections suppress everyday exchange and that formal contracts disproportionately protect the politically powerful. 

It has been difficult to causally test these arguments in the past. Most available data only records exchanges that have already occurred or firms that already exist. But if political connections can indeed prevent exchanges from occurring where they otherwise might, relying on such data could mischaracterize the true impact of political connections and contracts on exchange. 

To estimate this causal impact, I implemented a field experiment in Senegal in which I created and operated a registered business that sold mobile phone credits to households. I formed partnerships with three municipal councils in Dakar, and hired a team of employees who then worked at these councils in order to develop their political connections. Then, during door-to-door transactions, I randomized whether employees signaled their political connections as well as whether they offered formal contracts as part of the deal. This strategy allowed me to observe the conditions under which buyers exchange, and, critically, when they do not. 

The results show that, on average, political connections suppressed exchange and formal contracts boosted exchange. The effects of formal contracts are particularly large, an encouraging yet somewhat surprising result given Senegal’s weak contracting environment. However, examining the results by buyers’ political connections shows that it was primarily politically connected buyers who increased their likelihood of exchange when formal contracts were part of the deal. Imbalances in the political connections of buyers and sellers similarly affected who did business with whom: while sellers’ political connections decreased the likelihood of purchase among connected buyers, they had no effect among unconnected buyers who purchased at lower rates in general. 

Overall, these results show that everyday political connections can impede daily types of trade. This paper thus demonstrates the importance of measuring individual-level political connectivity for understanding patterns of economic development when the rule of law is selectively enforced. 

These results also demonstrate the limits of state institutions for enforcing secure exchange. Though formal contracts increase confidence in exchange, when rule of law is selectively enforced, these benefits may only accrue to those who need it the least: politically connected parties. Increasing access to formal contracts absent structural reforms may thus unintentionally exacerbate existing inequality and segmentation. 

This study was among the first to create a legal business to test a core question in the political economy literature, a strategy which offers unprecedented control to researchers. Assuming ethical standards can be met, this approach could be refined and adapted to other contexts to test lingering causal questions in the study of business and politics. 

About the Author: Abhit Bhandari, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of Toulouse Capitole. Their research “Political Determinants of Economic Exchange: Evidence from a Business Experiment in Senegal” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Do Campaign Contribution Limits Curb the Influence of Money in Politics?

The forthcoming article “Do Campaign Contribution Limits Curb the Influence of Money in Politics?” by Saad Gulzar, Miguel R. Rueda and Nelson A. Ruiz is summarized by the author(s) below. 

The influence of money in politics has been a cause for concern across the world. Over 40% of countries have adopted laws limiting campaign contributions and, in many of them, curbing the influence of money in politics was one of the main motivations for such reformsWe evaluate the efficacy of this institution in a new paper. 

We study this question in Colombia, where the story of the mayor of Amalfi exemplifies the broad patterns we see in the dataBefore the election, one donor alone contributed 3000 dollars, equivalent to 22% of the total contributions to the mayor’s campaignWhen the mayor won the election, the donor signed 86 contracts with the municipality worth more than half a million dollars. Of these contracts, only five were awarded via competitive tender. Can campaign contribution limits reduce the benefits accrued by donors? 

Considering the case of mayors systematically, we first establish that donating to political candidates carries kickbacks. With a regression discontinuity design, we show that donors of mayoral candidates who barely win an election are more likely to receive a public contract after the election than those donors who contributed to a candidate who barely lost the election. Donors to a winning candidate receive, on average, three more contracts from the elected mayor than those received by donors of the runner-up. This is a large increase, representing 184% of the average number of contracts that donors to the two top candidates receive.  

In Colombia, campaign contribution limits change discontinuously at certain thresholds related to the number of registered voters such that moving from a municipality just under the threshold to one just above loosens campaign contribution restrictions on the total amount from approximately 17,000 to 32,000 U.S. dollarsUsing a regression discontinuity design, we show that looser campaign limits (those that allow more money in politics) concentrate the influence of donors by raising the average contribution per donor and by increasing the share of campaign contributions that come from top donors. In particular, the share of a top donor’s contributions in campaign revenues is 9.1 percentage points higher in looser limit municipalities than in those with more restrictive campaign finance regulations. Next, we find that the increased weight of donors in the winner’s campaign under looser campaign limits translates into larger benefits to donors via contracts: a donor to the winning candidate receives three more public contracts than those she would have received under more restrictive campaign contribution rules. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we establish that this outsized influence of money in politics brought by looser campaign finance regulations is affecting the execution of public contracts. We show that looser limits increase the value of costs overruns of contracts managed by donors by 214% 

Overall, looser campaign contribution limits increase the weight top donors contributions have in winning campaigns’ revenues, the benefits via contracts that donors to the election winner receive, and the costs society pays for such contracts. This evidence is consistent with campaign contribution limits curbing the influence of money in politics. 

About the Author(s): Saad Gulzar is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at Stanford University, Miguel R. Rueda is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at Emory University and Nelson A. Ruiz is Lecturer, Department of Politics and International Relations at University of Oxford. Their research “Do Campaign Contribution Limits Curb the Influence of Money in Politics?” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Adaptive Experimental Design: Prospects and Applications in Political Science

The forthcoming article “Adaptive Experimental Design: Prospects and Applications in Political Science” by Molly Offer-Westort, Alexander Coppock and Donald P. Green is summarized by the author(s) below. 

In his 1980 essay for the American Statistician, We Need Both Exploratory and Confirmatory, John Tukey asserts that the advancement of science requires both exploratory and confirmatory data analysis to develop a research program from an idea, to a question, to a design, to (hopefully) an answer. Tukey framed these approaches as complementary; we propose that by combining modern machine learning tools with trusted methods for experimental design and analysis, we can integrate confirmatory and exploratory analysis in a coherent, principled way.  

Indeed, we already combine exploratory and confirmatory analysis systematically in the social sciences, albeit often informally. When a researcher runs a pilot that tests multiple versions of a treatment intervention and then implements only the most effective version in the main trial, this is integrating exploratory and confirmatory analysis.  

In this paper, we provide an introduction for political scientists to adaptive experimental designs, widely used in industry settings, which facilitate a principled approach to selecting among alternative interventions. These designs use a class of algorithm termed multi-armed bandits to dynamically allocate greater assignment probabilities to the most promising interventions. (We note that “best” is determined by the researcher’s objectives, and may be formalized in different ways.)  

We highlight the conditions under which such designs outperform conventional static experimental designs. In general, when there is a version of treatment that is clearly the most effective, the algorithm will quickly increase allocation to that arm, facilitating more precise estimation of outcomes under that intervention. This precision, however, comes at the cost of decreasing allocation to suboptimal treatment, resulting in less precise estimation for those arms. On the other hand, if no treatment clearly outperforms the others within the duration of the experiment, we may lose efficiency as the algorithm equivocates across multiple candidates for the “best” treatment.  

We demonstrate the design and analysis of an adaptive experiment in a practical application, determining and evaluating the most effective ballot measures for two policies: an increase to the minimum wage and a right-to- work law.  

While social scientists may care about learning and evaluating the best version of treatment, they often care as much or more about comparison of this treatment with a control condition. We propose a novel adaptive algorithm specifically tailored to this goal, which allocates an increasing proportion of subjects to both the best arm and the control condition, improving the precision with which we estimate the average treatment effect of the best performing arm.  

We apply this control-augmented algorithm to a study on misperceptions of facts, learning which interventions are most effective at inducing survey respondents to provide correct answers to factual questions about economic conditions.  

Adaptive designs impose increased complexity on study implementation and analysis, as compared to their conventional static counterparts. However, we demonstrate that they may also reward researchers with considerable payoffs. They are as well of great relevance in the spheres of public policy and health, where researchers may have ethical obligations to minimize subject exposure to ineffective, or even harmful interventions. 

About the Author(s): Molly Offer‐Westort is a post‐doctoral fellow at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Alexander Coppock is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University and Donald P. Green is the J. W. Burgess Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. Their research “Adaptive Experimental Design: Prospects and Applications in Political Science” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World

The forthcoming article “How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World” by Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard is summarized by the author(s) below. 

After the storm on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. noted, “At their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.” The question of how powerful political parties and their leaders are in shaping public opinion has intrigued political scientists since the beginning of systematic empirical research. Yet one obstacle has continued to get in the way of finding systematic answers: In the real world, political parties rarely change their position or messaging on major political issues – and when they do, researchers usually arrive too late to identify any effects on opinion. 

In our article, “How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World,” we present some of the most direct evidence to date of how citizens respond when their party changes its position in the real world on issues with direct concern to citizens’ welfare. We thus focus on party elite influence on citizens’ policy opinions. Moving beyond the sterile experimental setting used by most extant work, wrely on a rare quasi-experimental panel study of how citizens responded when their political party suddenly reversed its position on two major and salient welfare issues in Denmark. With a fivewave panel survey collected just around these two events, we show that citizens’ policy opinions changed immediately and substantially when their party  switched its policy position – even when the new position went against citizens’ previously held views. 

Specifically, we fielded a five-wave panel survey in the aftermath of the Great Recession in Denmark 2010-11, hoping that parties would announce dramatic changes in their position on specific welfare policies. Fortunately for our study, major political parties, including that of the Prime Minister, announced two wide-reaching policy reforms that came as a surprise to political observers: a 50 percent reduction in a widely used unemployment insurance program and, later, the abolition of a popular early retirement program. Hence, in both cases, the stakes were salient and real. 

We tracked opinions on the exact policies in question, enabling us to gauge what people thought about the cutbacks before and after their party proposed them. Furthermore, our panel survey closely bracketed the two policy changes – in one instance with less than two months passing from the pre- to the post-wave – limiting the influence of alternative, co-occurring events. On both issues, we find that citizens’ policy opinions immediately moved by around 15 percentage points in response to their partys new issue position compared to similar citizens whose party did not change its position. 

Importantly, the marked opinion change was not only driven by citizens already (partly) supportive of welfare cutbacks. To the contrary, parties were successful in reversing opinions among their supporters, moving them from opposing cutting down welfare to supporting it. The magnitude of opinion change among citizens is remarkable because it is on par with or even larger than many experimental studies, despite such studies are conducted in clean environments with captive audiences and typically on much less salient policy issues. 

In short, our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes were real and the economic consequences tangible. 

As we discuss in the article, our findings contribute to understanding the magnitude, duration, homogeneity and underlying psychological processes of party cue effects on citizens’ opinion formation. For example, the large and durable party cue effects in our real-world study suggest that experimental studies might, in fact, tend to underestimate the influence of political parties on public opinion. Likewise, our findings of few and small differences within partisan groups in how citizens responded to parties’ changing policy positions might lead researchers to be more cautious in concluding how heterogeneously citizens respond to party signals. This result, indeed, is further support of our interpretation that partisan elites exert a substantial influence on their supporters. 

Like our other recent article in American Journal of Political Science, “Partisan Elites as Culprits? How Party Cues Shape Partisan Perceptual Gaps,” this study offers an empirical foundation for normative debates about party elite influence on citizens. Our empirical evidence that party elites, at least under some conditions, have the power to directly shape how citizens form political opinions and even interpret the facts at hand leaves partisan elites with a responsibility to administer their influence carefully. 

About the Author(s): Rune Slothuus is Professor in the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University and Martin Bisgaard is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University. Their research “How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

The Unequal Distribution of Opportunity: A National Audit Study of Bureaucratic Discrimination in Primary School Access

The forthcoming article “The Unequal Distribution of Opportunity: A National Audit Study of Bureaucratic Discrimination in Primary School Access” by Asmus Leth Olsen, Jonas Høgh Kyhse‐Andersen and Donald Moynihan is summarized by the author(s) below. 

We hope that public officials will treat us fairly, offering equal access to public services whatever our background. Whether bureaucrats meet such ideals in practice is another question. The discretion inherent in their jobs gives them the opportunity to discriminate across groups. We offer evidence that school officials in Denmark are likely to engage in such discrimination: they are less likely to offer positions in schools to families with a Muslim name less frequently than to their Danish peers.  

To understand patterns of bureaucratic discrimination we distinguish between two approaches: allocative exclusion and administrative burdens. Allocative exclusion refers to bureaucrats systematically providing some resources to some groups more than others. We test if officials engage in discrimination via allocative exclusion by offering school places to families with a Muslim name less frequently than to their Danish peers. We therefore examine actual decisions to allocate public resources, not just responses to requests for information.  

Second, bureaucrats can apply more indirect forms of discrimination, by imposing administrative burdens differentially across groups. Administrators might decline to share information with, be less welcoming toward, or demand more documentation from out-groups. The applicant might not receive a direct rejection, and still participate in the bureaucratic process, but under less favorable circumstances. We examine if bureaucrats impose greater compliance and psychological costs on Muslim families.  

We undertook a national field experiment where putative Muslim and Danish families sent an email requesting to transfer their child to a local school (n=1,698)School transfers requests are common in a Danish context. We examine access to primary education because it matters profoundly for later-life outcomes and is central to cultivating the civic skills needed for citizenship. Muslims in Europe often play a double out-group role, differentiated in both religion and ethnicity from predominantly Christian or non-religious natives. Muslim immigrants perform poorly in Danish elementary schools, contributing to later life socio-economic disparities. Furthermore, the risk of anti-Muslim bias has been exacerbated by the refugee crisis, which has encouraged anti-immigrant politics across Europe. 

The large differences in responses we find – 25% of those with Danish names were directly offered a spot at the school, compared to 15% of those with Muslim names – provides unambiguous evidence of discrimination via allocative exclusion. We also find that Danish bureaucrats discriminate in how they impose administrative burdens, seeking more information and offering a less welcoming tone to Muslims.   

About the Author(s): Asmus Leth Olsen is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Copenhagen, Jonas Høgh Kyhse-Andersen is an independent researcher, and Donald P. Moynihan is a Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. Their research “The Unequal Distribution of Opportunity: A National Audit Study of Bureaucratic Discrimination in Primary School Access” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Courting Informal Workers: Exclusion, Forbearance, and the Left

The forthcoming article “Courting Informal Workers: Exclusion, Forbearance, and the Left” by Germán Feierherd is summarized by the author below. 

Sixty percent of workers around the world, according to recent estimates from the International Labour Organization, are informally employed. These workers do not pay payroll or income taxes and are not covered by social security or labor regulations, including those regulating maximum working hours, severance pay, and payed vacations. Do left-leaning governments with strong links to organized labor extend job security protections to these workersThis article shows that far from simply tolerating labor informality, local leftist governments in Brazil systematically weaken the enforcement of labor contracts and instead work to improve conditions for workers in the informal sector.  

This choice, I argue, reflects an “intra-class” dilemma that leftist parties face, especially in countries with rigid labor codes and residual welfare states. Whereas formal workers benefit from more rigorous labor laws, informal workers lose out when job security is strengthened. Heightened enforcement can potentially hurt the employment of less-skilled informal workers. Some workers may even wish to work informally, to continue receiving mean-tested benefits or to avoid paying costly contributions. Once in office, the Left partly mitigates this dilemma by slowing down the enforcement of labor contracts in contexts in which inspections threaten jobs (e.g., among small firms and when labor-market conditions are bad) and improving incomes and conditions for workers in the informal sector. 

To test this argument, I combine fine-grain data on labor inspections and informal-sector workers and organizations with qualitative interviews and the content analysis of policy documents. Using a regression-discontinuity design, I show that mayors from the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party, or PT) reduce the frequency of labor inspections among small firms and in municipalities that suffer upward shocks in unemployment. These mayors also increase the number of worker cooperatives where jobs remain informal, but laborers enjoy better working conditions. I also find suggestive evidence that by the end of a PT mayor’s term, the share of informal and cooperative workers increases.  

This article contributes to discussions about the political causes of pro-poor forbearance and persistent levels of informality in developing countries. The “intra-class” dilemma that I describe explains why politicians may choose at times to undermine regulation through forbearance instead of changing the law. This article should also interest scholars examining the politics of labor market adjustment. Around the world, leftist parties have been torn over advancing the interests of labor “insiders” by strengthening job security rules or upgrading the position of “outsiders” by embracing market promoting reforms. The forbearance strategy vis-à-vis informal workers that I identified allows left-leaning parties to balance in part the competing interests of a divided working class. 

About the Author: Germán Feierherd is Assistant Professor at Universidad de San Andrés. His research “Courting Informal Workers: Exclusion, Forbearance, and the Left” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Partisan Procurement: Contracting with the United States Federal Government, 2003–2015

The forthcoming article “Partisan Procurement: Contracting with the United States Federal Government, 2003–2015” by Carl Dahlström, Mihály Fazekas and David E. Lewis is summarized by the author(s) below. 

In May 2020, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the former Health Department Official Dr. Rick Bright blew the whistle. He said that the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is a unit within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), was pressured to award lucrative contracts to politically connected firms and, furthermore, to prioritize political concerns over scientific judgements when setting timelines and deciding on projects intended to improve the health of the American people. Dr. Bright was ousted for speaking up against this practice.  

In our forthcoming article “Partisan Procurement. Contracting with the United States Federal Government, 2003–2015”, due to be published in the American Journal of Political Sciencewe show that Dr. Bright’s story fits into a larger pattern. The United States spends over one quarter of its budget buying goods and services from suppliers outside the public sector, with contracts typically set up between agencies and private firmsThe huge sums that the federal government spends on buying goods and services from outside of the public sector provides the president and his administration with powerful political tools. We suggest that the incumbent administration sometimes uses these sums for strategic government purchasing, which can, in turn, have electoral consequences. 

But aillustrated by Dr. Bright’s story, not all government officials would accept that favoritism and other political considerations play decisive roles in procurement processes. The president needs appointees from his administration inside agencies to create political pressure and more politicized agencies should therefore show favoritism to businesses in key electoral constituencies and to firms connected to political parties. 

And indeed, using new data on United States government contracts between 2003 and 2015, we find that executive departments, particularly more politicized department-wide offices, are the most likely to have contracts characterized by non-competitive procedures and outcomes, indicating favoritism. Politically responsive agencies – but only those – give out more non-competitive contracts in battleground states. We also observe greater turnover in firms receiving government contracts after party change in the White House, but only in the more politicized agencies. 

We conclude that agency designs that limit appointee representation in procurement decisions reduce political favoritism. The pressure Dr. Bright felt came from “…the senior leadership within the HHS”. To the extent these managers substitute professional with political criteria, procurement will be partisan.  

About the Author(s): Carl Dahlström is Professor, Department of Political Science at University of Gothenburg, Mihály Fazekas is Assistant Professor, School of Public Policy at Central European University and David E. Lewis is Rebecca Webb Wilson University Distinguished Professor, Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. Their research “Partisan Procurement: Contracting with the United States Federal Government, 2003–2015” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Ideology, Not Affect: What Americans Want from Political Representation

The forthcoming article “Ideology, Not Affect: What Americans Want from Political Representation” by Mia Costa is summarize by the author below. 

Research shows that partisan affect, or how Democrats and Republicans feel about one another, drives polarization more than ideology. Scholars suggest that the increasing loathing between partisans leads voters to desire representatives who inflame their partisan animusIndeed, President Trump often attacks the other side and some voters respond favorably to his brazen, affective rhetoric. Other politicians denigrate their opposition with name-calling and party-polarizing language on social media. If voters did not support this behavior, then why would politicians engage in it?  

I use three unique survey experiments to answer whether Americans prefer a representational style based in affective partisanship rather than substantive representation. The conjoint approachwhere multiple information is randomized at once, allows me to examine the relative impact of expressions of negative (or positive) partisan affect and policy (in)congruence on legislator evaluations. Across three studies, I find that affective partisan rhetoric is not rewarded and, in most cases, significantly harms citizens’ evaluations of legislators. Overall, people rate representatives the highest when they share their issue positions and priorities.  

In Study 1, people were asked to choose between two fictional members of Congress five times for who they would prefer to have as their representative. Each time, information about each legislator was randomized, such as whether they expressed out-party affect or agreed/disagreed with the respondent on a policy issue. I found that out-party affect was penalized; if a member expressed negative animus against the other party, they were significantly less likely to be selected than if they disagreed with the respondent on policy 

In Study 2, people were simply asked to rate their approval of a fictional legislator instead of choosing between two. An additional component was randomized: whether the legislator expressed negative or positive partisan affectPrevious research demonstrates that loathing towards one’s out-party is stronger than positive affect towards the in-party, suggesting that out-party rhetoric should be evaluated more favorably than in-party rhetoricHowever, I find that people rated legislators less favorably when they expressed out-party negativity than in-party cheerleading. Moreover, as in Study 1, policy agreement had a very large, positive effect compared to partisan affect and policy disagreement. This remains true even when people evaluate a legislator of their own party and even among primary voters.  

Finally, in Study 3, I take into account policy issue priorities rather than positions. The policies used in Study 1 and Study 2 (immigration, health care, gun control, income tax) were varied enough to provide some level of generalizability, but what happens if the issues prioritized by the legislator are more or less important to the respondent? The results indicate that respondents still care about policy issues over partisan affect. If legislators listed an issue priority, even if it was not the respondent’s top issue priority, their approval increased more than prioritizing an electoral loss for the other party. 

Overall, the paper demonstrates that affective polarization does not extend to preferences for representation. If policy issues form the basis of ideology, then voters indeed want representation based on ideology, not partisan affect. Concerns that Americans are only (or even primarily) driven by partisan animus when evaluating political leaders are overblown. And politicians who often take part in expressive partisanship may thus be out of line with what their constituents want.  

About the Author: Mia Costa is Assistant Professor at Dartmouth College. Her research “Ideology, Not Affect: What Americans Want from Political Representation” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 


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