Turnover: How Lame-Duck Governments Disrupt the Bureaucracy and Service Delivery before Leaving Office


Electoral accountability is fundamental to representative democracy. Yet, it can also be costly for governance because it generates turnover among bureaucrats (not just politicians) and disrupts the delivery of public services. Previous studies on the connection between political and bureaucratic turnover emphasize how incoming governments reshape the bureaucracy. This article argues that election losers also engage in bureaucratic shuffling before leaving office, and that this can depress public service delivery. I employ a close-races regression discontinuity design to demonstrate these turnover dynamics, using administrative data on the universe of government employees and healthcare services in Brazilian municipalities. The results show that the incumbent’s electoral defeat causes dismissals of temporary employees, the hiring of more 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.

Journal of Politics, forthcoming

This paper was previously circulated under the title Turnover: How electoral accountability disrupts the bureaucracy and service delivery. Presented at IE University (2021), Oxford University (2021), Vanderbilt University (2020), the American Political Science Association Congress (APSA, Seattle, 2021 and online, 2020), the European Political Science Association Conference (EPSA, online, 2021), the Midwest Workshop in Empirical Political Science (MWEPS, online, 2021), and the MIT GOV/LAB Political Behavior of Development Conference (Cambridge, MA, 2018)

Guillermo Toral
Guillermo Toral
Assistant Professor of Political Science