Peer-Reviewed Publications

Building Parties From City Hall: Party Membership and Municipal Government in Brazil (The Journal of Politics, 2020)

Under what conditions does local incumbency help a party recruit new members? In this article, I use a regression discontinuity design to study the consequences of municipal incumbency for party membership recruitment in Brazil, and I find that the effect of incumbency on grassroots party-building is conditional on the party’s prior level of institutionalization. Municipal incumbency increased membership recruitment only among centralized and programmatic parties that already had a well-established organizational presence in the municipality, and it was ineffective and sometimes even counterproductive for weaker parties. I also find evidence that the incumbency advantage for institutionalized parties is only partly explained by patronage, and incumbency also helps these parties recruit high-intensity members who seek to participate in the party and who remain affiliated with the party even when it is no longer in power.

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Replication Data

Online Appendix

Less is more: The paradox of choice in voting behavior (Electoral Studies, 2021; with Saul Cunow, Scott Desposato, and Andrew Janusz)

How does the number of candidates competing in an election affect voting behavior? In theory, as the number of candidates running for office increase, citizens’ utility from voting also increases. With more candidates, voters are more likely to have candidates that are close to their ideal points. Practically, however, more candidates also means a higher cognitive burden for voters who must learn more during campaigns in order to find their “ideal” candidate. In this paper, we examine how choice set size affects voting behavior. Using a survey experiment, we show that subjects presented with many options learn less about candidates, are more likely to vote based on meaningless heuristics, and are more likely to commit voting errors, when compared with subjects who choose between only a few candidates.

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Online Appendix

Race and Campaign Resources: Candidate Identification Numbers in Brazil (Journal of Politics in Latin America, 2021; with Andrew Janusz)

Party elites may hinder racial and ethnic minorities from winning public office by withholding resources. Prior studies have explored the distribution of money, media access, and party-list positions. In Brazil, party elites provide each candidate with a unique identification number. Voters must enter their preferred candidate’s identification number into an electronic voting machine to register their support. In this article, we replicate and extend Bueno and Dunning’s (2017) analysis of candidate identification numbers. They conclude that party elites do not provide white candidates with superior identification numbers than non-whites. We contend that assessing intraparty variation is theoretically and methodologically warranted. Using party fixed effects, we find that party elites provide non-white candidates with worse identification numbers than whites. We demonstrate that our findings are generalisable using data from other elections. Moreover, we show that party elites also withhold advantageous numbers from women and political novices.

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Selected Works in Progress

Book Project: The Life of the Party: Grassroots Activists and Mass Partisanship in Latin America

Previous work on partisanship in Latin America and elsewhere has emphasized the importance of social cleavages, policy-based party brands, and linkages between parties and social movements as bases of mass party identification, and this research predicts that voters are more likely to identify with a party when they see themselves as part of the party’s “typical” constituency. However, one of the most intriguing puzzles about partisanship in 20th century Latin America is that many of the region’s major parties drew intense partisan support from across multiple different social classes and sectors of society. Moreover, many of the parties that had the highest rates of partisan support among lower-class and working- class voters were weakly-institutionalized “elite parties” that frequently pursued policies that were against the interests of poor voters. This book addresses the twin puzzles of how Latin American parties managed to maintain such broad-based partisan support in the 20th century, and why contemporary parties tend to have much narrower partisan bases today.

I argue that a party’s success at broadening its base of partisan support hinges on its ability to recruit activists from outside its core constituencies and incorporate them into its party organization on a permanent basis. The book begins by developing a theoretical framework that unites social identity models of partisanship with social network theories of behavioral contagion and recent theorizing on the relationship between parties and brokers. While recent work on partisanship in Latin America has assumed that voters’ perceptions of party brands respond mostly to the actions of senior party elites, I contend that the behavior of low-level party actors such as party activists, brokers, and ordinary partisans can be equally important for how voters perceive a party. As experienced intermediaries who specialize in political mobilization, brokers are valuable sources of political information that other voters rely on when they form their opinions of parties. However, brokers are able to mobilize their clients’ partisan loyalties in addition to their votes only when two conditions are met: first, the voters perceive the broker as a peer whose partisan preferences are relevant for their own, and second, the broker herself is a long-term member and partisan of the party that employs her. One of the reasons why parties normally struggle to attract the partisan loyalties of voters from their non-core constituencies is because parties have few activists who are native to these constituencies, and they rely instead on activists imported from outside, or ephemeral and arms-length relationships with local community leaders. However, a party can capture the partisan loyalties of non-core voters by incorporating these local leaders into the party organization and transforming them into party activists. This in turn is more likely if the party has an inclusive party organization that integrates non-core activists into the party’s internal decision- making processes and makes it possible for them to advance through the party’s ranks.

The empirical chapters of the book apply this framework to historical and contemporary Latin American parties using a mixed-methods research design that draws on nine months of fieldwork in Chile and Uruguay, archival research, comparative historical analysis, and quantitative analyses based on original data on early 20th century party organizations, activist participation, and social networks. These chapters are structured around three groups of parties that varied on their initial organizational endowments and the depth of the cleavages that separated their core and non-core constituencies. Two of the chapters address the puzzle of why some Latin American elite parties succeeded at capturing the partisan loyalties of poor voters, while others failed to do so. Another chapter is about the challenges that the region’s early labor-based parties faced when they attempted to expand their support outside of the labor movement, and it examines why labor-based parties in Chile ultimately succeeded at attracting the partisan loyalties of non-unionized voters, while their counterparts in Uruguay attracted few partisans from outside of the organized labor movement. A final chapter applies this framework to contemporary parties in Chile that were founded over the last decade.

This research advances our understanding of political parties and political behavior by developing and defending a new theory of partisan identity-formation that offers important lessons for parties today. While recent work has focused on how the actions of politicians and party elites shape voters’ partisanship, I show that partisan identity-formation is often a decentralized process, and even low-level activists and ordinary partisans can affect the party identification of their peers. Consequently, supporters of the same party can develop drastically different understandings of what their party is and whom it represents. Moreover, voters may identify with parties that routinely pursue policies that are against their interests, as long as their partisan attachments are reinforced by their social relationships with the party’s activists and other partisans.

This research also highlights the under-appreciated role that lower-class activists played in building Latin American traditional parties. Although previous scholarship has often dismissed Latin America’s early elite parties as clientelistic political machines, I demonstrate that the secret to their success at winning over lower-class voters was actually their relatively pluralistic and participatory party structures, which gave them a comparative advantage at recruiting activists from diverse sectors of society.

Women and Party Building: Evidence from municipal governments in Brazil (with Tanushree Goyal)

The costs and benefits of holding political office are unequally distributed - women benefit less, but incur personal costs. We highlight a new arena in which women have an upper hand: recruiting female party members. We theorize that the resource constraints and discrimination that female office-holders face offer them unique incentives to mobilize other women into their parties as party activists and grassroots members. Drawing on rich data on party membership in Brazil, we show that having a female mayor in office can substantially narrow the gender gap in party membership recruitment, even when the formal municipal party leadership organs continue to be controlled by men.

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