Norms versus Action: Why Voters Fail to Sanction Malfeasance in Brazil
Taylor C. Boas, F. Daniel Hidalgo, and Marcus André Melo
American Journal of Political Science 63, 2 (April 2019): 385-400.
Mosquito-borne illnesses present significant health challenges to the developing world. If citizens are informed about their government’s efforts to combat these diseases, will they reward incumbents who have performed well and punish those who have done poorly at this task? Electoral sanctioning requires that combatting disease be a sufficiently salient concern, which, in turn, is likely to We show that Brazilian voters strongly sanction malfeasant mayors when presented with hypothetical scenarios but take no action when given the same information about their own mayor. Partnering with the State Accounts Court of Pernambuco, we conducted a field experiment during the 2016 municipal elections in which the treatment group received information about official wrongdoing by their mayor. The treatment has no effect on self‐reported voting behavior after the election, yet when informing about malfeasance in the context of a vignette experiment, we are able to replicate the strong negative effect found in prior studies. We argue that voters’ behavior in the abstract reflects the comparatively strong norm against corruption in Brazil. Yet on Election Day, their behavior is constrained by factors such as attitudes toward local political dynasties and the greater salience of more pressing concerns like employment and health services. upon subjective perceptions of the risks posed by particular illnesses. Epidemics typically prompt stronger risk perceptions than endemic diseases, but where both types circulate jointly, the more familiar endemic disease may determine public reactions. The salience of health threats also varies among individuals; those with a self-interest in prevention or a personal connection to the effects of mosquito-borne illnesses may react more strongly.