The benefits of patronage: How political appointments can enhance bureaucratic accountability and effectiveness


The political appointment of bureaucrats is typically seen as a rent-seeking strategy whereby politicians sustain clientelistic networks and manipulate public administration to their advantage. I argue that political appointments can also increase bureaucratic accountability and effectiveness in public service delivery because they provide political and social connections between bureaucrats and politicians. These connections provide access to material and immaterial resources, enhance monitoring, facilitate the application of sanctions and rewards, align priorities and incentives, and increase mutual trust. In certain conditions, political connections can thus enhance bureaucrats' responsiveness and the delivery of services. I test this theory with data on Brazilian municipal governments, leveraging two quasi-experiments, two original surveys of bureaucrats and politicians, and in-depth interviews. The findings challenge the traditional view of patronage as universally detrimental for development, and draw attention to how political appointments and connections can be leveraged for public service delivery.

Working paper

Presented at 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 University (Newark, NJ, 2019), Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE, Mexico City, 2019), Yale-NUS College (Singapore, 2019), Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN, 2019), New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD, 2019), Tecnológico de Monterrey (TEC, Monterrey, Mexico, 2019), the 2019 Northeast Workshop in Empirical Political Science (NEWEPS, New York City), the 2019 Conference of the Society for Political Methodology (PolMeth, Cambridge), the 2018 American Political Science Association Congress (APSA, Boston), and the 2018 MIT Workshop on the Politics of Education (Cambridge, MA)

Guillermo Toral
Guillermo Toral
Assistant Professor of Political Science