Accountability Backlash: Negative Electoral Responses to Public Service Provision in Brazil
Taylor C. Boas, F. Daniel Hidalgo, and Guillermo Toral
Do voters reward politicians for the quality of public services? We address this question by studying voters’ responses to signals of municipal school quality in Brazil, a setting particularly favorable to electoral accountability. Findings from two research design—a regression discontinuity and a field experiment—are strikingly consistent. Contrary to expectations, signals of school quality decrease electoral support for the local incumbent. However, we find the expected effect among citizens for whom school quality should be most salient—parents with children in municipal schools. Using an online survey experiment to test the mechanism behind this result, we argue that voters interpret educational quality as an indicator of municipal sending priorities and perceive trade-offs with other areas that they might value more. We propose the concept of “accountability backlash” to make sense of our findings as well as of a growing body of evidence of negative voter responses to service delivery.