Political bureaucratic cycles: Public employment and service delivery around elections in Brazil


A vast literature has studied political cycles in economic outcomes and economic policy tools (political business and political budget cycles, respectively). I identify a related phenomenon - electoral cycles in the hiring and firing of bureaucrats and in the activities of public employees, which emerge as a result of the combination of electoral incentives and legal rules imposed to limit the use of public employment for electioneering. Empirically, I leverage administrative, identified, contract-level data on the universe of municipal employees in Brazil between 2002 and 2016 to measure political bureaucratic cycles. Hires and dismissals of municipal personnel show markedly cyclical patterns around elections, which are shaped by both incumbents' electoral incentives and their reaction to anti-corruption policies that constrain hiring and firing around elections. Cycles are most pronounced for temporary bureaucrats but are also detectable for civil service bureaucrats, which counters the received wisdom that civil service regimes isolate bureaucrats from political dynamics. Hiring and firing around elections are targeted at less educated people, which is consistent with political bureaucratic cycles partly responding to clientelistic strategies. Consistent with the clientelistic use of public employment, and the legal rigidities imposed on hiring around elections, pre-natal check-ups (a key output of the healthcare bureaucracy) are systematically lower around elections. Findings are grounded on, and complemented with, in-depth interviews with prosecutors, politicians and bureaucrats conducted in 7 states. The paper contributes to bridging the gap between the literatures on political budget/business cycles and on clientelism, two fields that have rarely been linked before.

Working paper

Presented at the 2019 American Political Science Association Annual Meeting (APSA, Washington DC), the 2019 Red para la Economía Política de América Latina Annual Meeting (REPAL, New Orleans), and the 2018 Latin American Studies Association Congress (LASA, Barcelona)

Guillermo Toral
Guillermo Toral
Assistant Professor of Political Science