Theses Doctoral

A Working Machine: Patronage Jobs and Political Services in Argentina

Oliveros, Virginia

Why does the control of patronage significantly increase a party's chances of staying in power? What do public employees do that affect electoral competition? What motivates public employees to do it? In this dissertation, I seek to describe what it is that public employees do that affects electoral competition and to establish why they do it. I argue that patronage jobs are distributed to supporters in exchange for a wide range of political services. Since government jobs are expensive, the type of political support that is expected in exchange for public sector employment goes far beyond the simple act of voting. Patronage employees perform a number of different political activities that are essential for attracting and maintaining electoral support. However, a citizen who receives a public sector job with the understanding that she will provide political services in return can easily renege on her side of the contract after getting the job. Why would public sector employees comply with their side of the patronage contract after receiving the job? Existing explanations are based either on fear of punishment (clients comply with their side of the agreement because they are afraid the patron will cut off the benefit if they fail to do so) or feelings of reciprocity (clients comply with the agreement because they want to help the person that have helped them). Departing from these explanations, I argue that patronage employees engage in political activities that support politicians (patrons) because their fates are tied to the political fate of their patrons. Put simply, their incentives are aligned. What makes patronage contracts self-sustaining without punishment or reciprocity is the fact that patronage jobs are distributed to supporters (because only supporters can credibly commit to provide political support), whose fates are tied to the political fate of the politician who has hired them. Patronage jobs (and working conditions) held by supporters will be maintained by the incumbent politician (the patron) but not by a competing politician, because supporters of the incumbent cannot credibly commit to provide political services for the opposition. Supporters, then, have large incentives to provide political services to help the incumbent stay in power, which makes their original commitment to provide political services a credible one. This alignment of interests between patrons and clients (or politicians and patronage employees) makes patronage contracts incentive-compatible and therefore self-sustaining. I test the empirical implications of my theory using an original face-to-face survey of 1200 local public sector employees that I fielded in three Argentine municipalities (Salta, Santa Fe, and Tigre). Using list experiments--a technique that provides respondents with the anonymity needed to obtain accurate information about sensitive topics-- I show that a considerable proportion of public sector employees are involved in political activities. To establish why public sector employees provide these political services I use two survey experiments that allow me to identify employees' comprehension of the likely effect of a change in municipal government. The results strongly support the empirical predictions--public employees believe that their jobs are tied to the political success of the incumbent politician. Finally, I complement the analysis of the survey results with a series of in-depth interviews of public sector employees, brokers, and politicians. I conclude by providing additional evidence from other Latin American countries as an out of sample test of the theory and to provide more confidence about the external validity of the argument.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Murillo, Maria V.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 23, 2013