How Patronage Delivers: Political Appointments, Bureaucratic Accountability, and Service Delivery in Brazil


The political appointment of bureaucrats is typically seen as jeopardizing development by selecting worse types into the bureaucracy or by depressing bureaucratic effort. I argue that political appointments also affect outcomes through a third, less studied channel, namely by changing how bureaucrats work. Patronage provides connections between bureaucrats and politicians, and thereby grants access to material and non-material resources, enhances monitoring, facilitates the application of sanctions and rewards, aligns priorities and incentives, and increases mutual trust. Political appointments can thus enhance bureaucrats' accountability and effectiveness, not just for rent-seeking purposes but also, in certain conditions, for public service delivery. I test this theory using data on Brazilian municipal governments, leveraging two quasi-experiments, two original surveys of bureaucrats and politicians, and in-depth interviews. The findings highlight the countervailing effects of connections on bureaucratic governance in the developing world.

American Journal of Political Science 68(2): 797-815

This paper was previously circulated under the title The benefits of patronage: How political appointments can enhance bureaucratic accountability and effectiveness. Presented at Princeton (2022), Georgetown (2021), Oxford (2021), Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M, 2021), the Red para el Estudio de la Economía Política de América Latina (REPAL, 2021), Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB, Berlin, 2021), IE University (Madrid, 2021), the Quality of Government Institute (Gothenburg, 2021), Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, 2021), Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM, Mexico City, 2020), Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation (Cambridge, MA, 2020), Rutgers (Newark, NJ, 2019), Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE, Mexico City, 2019), Yale-NUS College (Singapore, 2019), Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN, 2019), NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD, 2019), Tecnológico de Monterrey (TEC, Monterrey, Mexico, 2019), the Northeast Workshop in Empirical Political Science (NEWEPS, New York City, 2019), the Conference of the Society for Political Methodology (PolMeth, Cambridge, 2019), the American Political Science Association Congress (APSA, Boston, 2018), and the MIT Workshop on the Politics of Education (Cambridge, MA, 2018)

Guillermo Toral
Guillermo Toral
Assistant Professor of Political Science