Turnover: How electoral accountability disrupts the bureaucracy and service delivery


Electoral accountability is fundamental to representative democracy. Yet, it can also be costly for governance because it causes turnover among bureaucrats (not just politicians) and disruptions in the delivery of public services. Most research on the connections between political and bureaucratic turnover emphasizes how incoming governments reshape the bureaucracy. This article argues that election losers also engage in bureaucratic shuffles before leaving office, and that their actions can depress public service delivery. I demonstrate these turnover dynamics through a close-races regression discontinuity design, using administrative data on the universe of government employees and on healthcare services in Brazilian municipalities. Results show that an electoral defeat of the incumbent causes dismissals of temporaries, hires of civil servants, and declines in healthcare service delivery before the winner takes office. These findings highlight the political strategies of lame-duck politicians and the consequential bureaucratic politics that follow elections.

Invited to revise and resubmit, American Political Science Review

Presented at the 2021 European Political Science Association Conference (EPSA, online), the 2021 Midwest Workshop in Empirical Political Science (MWEPS, online), the 2020 American Political Science Association Congress (APSA, online), and the 2018 MIT GOV/LAB Political Behavior of Development Conference (Cambridge, MA)

Guillermo Toral
Guillermo Toral
Assistant Professor of Political Science