Guillermo Toral

Guillermo Toral

Assistant Professor of Political Science

Vanderbilt University

I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, and a Faculty Affiliate at MIT GOV/LAB. I work in the fields of comparative politics and political economy, with a regional focus on Latin America and a substantive focus on issues of development, governance, and corruption.

I study relationships among state actors (politicians, bureaucrats, and anti-corruption agents) and how they shape public service delivery and human development. In my work, I use big administrative datasets, surveys, and extensive qualitative fieldwork to shed light on dynamics of government accountability. I am writing a book on The political logics of patronage, where I distinguish the strategic uses that local politicians in Brazil make of public employment, and show the divergent implications that those strategies have for government accountability and public service delivery. In other projects I examine the effectiveness of anti-corruption policies and agencies, the role of information in within-government and electoral accountability, and the causes and consequences of the enfranchisement of immigrants.

  • Comparative Politics
  • Political Economy
  • Causal inference
  • Qualitative fieldwork
  • Latin America
  • Southern Europe
  • PhD in Political Science, 2020

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • MPhil in Comparative Government, 2011

    University of Oxford

  • Lic. in Political Science and Public Administration, 2009

    Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Peer-reviewed articles

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(2010). Immigrant Organizations as Civil Society: A Three-Dimensional Analysis. Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas 132:105-130.

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Chapters in books

(2015). Grooming great teachers. Chapter 4 in Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington DC: World Bank.

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(2015). Recruiting better teachers. Chapter 3 in Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington DC: World Bank.

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Policy reports

(2019). Information and Accountability: Evidence Syntheses of Within-Government and Citizen-Government Accountability Pathways. Transparency & Accountability Initiative.

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(2018). Taxation and accountability in developing countries. Transparency & Accountability Initiative.

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(2018). Effect of International Standards on Accountability Behaviors. Transparency & Accountability Initiative.

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Book project

The political logics of patronage: Uses and abuses of government jobs in Brazil

The political appointment of bureaucrats (or patronage, for short) is a major resource for politicians all around the world. Scholars have long studied patronage, often seeing it as a clientelistic strategy whereby bureaucracies are staffed with supporters to retain political power, resulting in bureaucrats who work less and public services that fail to fulfill citizens' needs. Building on my dissertation (which won APSA’s 2021 Harold D. Lasswell Award for best dissertation in public policy, among other awards), this book project expands our understanding of patronage by distinguishing five distinct rationales that drive politicians' use of government jobs.

The five political logics of patronage that I identify are: managing bureaucrats (to deliver public services or to extract rents), mobilizing voters, rewarding supporters, tying the opponent’s hands, and anchoring coalitions. Each of these political logics of patronage has a different rationale, distinct employment patterns, and divergent effects on governance and service delivery – not all of them negative.

Empirically, I document the logics of patronage with data on Brazilian municipal governments, a particularly useful context to study patronage given its wide variation in political and economic development and the coexistence of patronage with civil service and other strong anti-corruption institutions. To illustrate the diverse uses of patronage and their consequences I combine administrative microdata (including contract-level, identified data on the universe of municipal employees, and data on the performance of education and healthcare bureaucracies), two original surveys in one state (a face-to-face representative survey of 926 bureaucrats, and an online survey of 755 local politicians), and 121 in-depth interviews with bureaucrats, politicians, and anti-corruption agents done over 18 months of fieldwork in 7 states.

Three novel implications emerge from this project. First, patronage can alleviate agency problems and thus enhance the accountability and effectiveness of bureaucrats, not only to extract rents but also to deliver public services. Second, when politicians use patronage to extract rents, they mobilize a diverse set of strategies that go beyond the hiring of supporters, including the hiring of civil service bureaucrats and the firing (not just hiring) of temporaries. Third, policies commonly used to reduce patronage –such as civil service regimes, legal constraints on hiring, and elections for key bureaucratic positions– can have undesirable consequences, partly because of politicians’ strategic responses to constraints imposed on their hiring discretion. These findings are relevant to scholars and policymakers seeking to understand and to improve governance and state capacity, especially in middle-income contexts.


Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)

Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (Natal, Brazil)

USP-IPSA Summer School in Methods in Political Science, Public Policy and International Relations (Sao Paulo, Brazil)

Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) (Cambridge, MA)

Guest lectures

  • Guest lecture on political cycles in the Master of Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government. November 2021.
  • Guest lecture on fieldwork in the Master in Social Sciences of the Carlos III-Juan March Institute. October 2021.
  • Guest lecture in the course Representation and Accountability (taught by Kristin Michelitch at Vanderbilt University). October 2021.
  • Guest lecture in the course Introduction to Comparative Politics (taught by Noam Lupu at Vanderbilt University). November 2020.
  • Guest lecture in the course Corruption: Finding it and Fixing it (taught by Jeeyang Rhee Baum at Harvard University). November 2019.