The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Comparative Speaker Series- Leslie Schwindt- Bayer (Rice Univ)

Jumping Ship: Corruption Perceptions, Opposition Parties, and Reelecting Incumbents in Latin America

Mon, September 23, 2019 | BAT 5.108

12:00 PM - 2:00 PM


Abstract: Theories of electoral accountability posit that when voters perceive that elected officials have engaged in wrongdoing they will vote those elected officials out of office. Yet, empirical evidence shows that this does not always happen. In Latin America, corruption allegations have failed to bring down many elected officials at the ballot box as voters have continued to stand by elected elites even in the face of significant corruption evidence. When do voters reject incumbents and when do they stand by them in contexts of corruption? In this paper, we argue that research has left out a potentially important factor in a voter’s decision-making process: the opposition. Specifically, we argue that a voter must have a viable electoral alternative—measured as a candidate/party that is perceived to be ideologically close to the voter—to be willing to turn out of office an incumbent that he or she previously voted for. We use data from the 2014 wave of the Americas Barometer survey for eighteen Latin American countries and demonstrate that corruption perceptions do impact vote choice, even for voters that once supported the incumbent in question, but that this impact is conditional on the self-perceived ideological distance between the incumbent party and the closest opposition party. The more ideologically distant the opposition is from the incumbent candidate, the more likely voters are to continue to support the incumbent in future elections even when they believe the incumbent is corrupt. The presence of an opposition party that is ideologically closer to the incumbent—a viable “other option” for the voter—increases the probability that voters will abandon the incumbent when they perceive corruption. The viability of the opposition in the eyes of the voter, in terms of political ideology, appears to be an important factor in the decision-making process of whether or not to electorally punish a corrupt politician in Latin America.

Bio: Professor Schwindt-Bayer has published her research in numerous journals, including the American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, British Journal of Political Science, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Electoral Studies, Comparative Political Studies, Politics & Gender, and Journal of Politics in Latin America, among others. In 2010, she published her first book, Political Power and Women's Representation in Latin America, with Oxford University Press. In 2012, she co-authored The Gendered Effects of Electoral Institutions (with Miki Kittilson; Oxford University Press), and in 2016, she published Clarity of Responsibility, Accountability, and Corruption (Cambridge University Press) with Margit Tavits. Her most recent book, published 2018, is an edited volume, Gender and Representation in Latin America (Oxford University Press).

Professor Schwindt-Bayer earned her Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Arizona in May 2003 and was an assistant professor for four years at the University of Mississippi and an assistant/associate professor for six years at the University of Missouri before moving to Rice University in the fall of 2013. She was a Visiting Fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Fall 2008. At Rice, she also is a Faculty Scholar with the Latin America Initiative at the Baker Institute, a Faculty Affiliate in the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, and an affiliated faculty member with the Latin American Studies major.

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