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When the impossible becomes possible in politics

My dissertation builds on a classic assertion in Political Science. It is axiomatic that organized interest groups can obtain and protect policies that are generally unpopular or inefficient for the economy as a whole because their opponents cannot overcome their own collective action problems. However, sometimes we do see unexpected policy changes. I present evidence on how social media tools, mainly Whatsapp, are important in the lobbying competition.

My work explains how a long-victorious special interest can be overcome by a newly organized (and newly advantaged) rival. In these cases, when facing two potential support groups (or opponents) making opposite policy demands, legislators have to choose which group to please and which to disappoint. The pro-status-quo group uses a strategy that threatens legislators with the loss of votes.  To win this competition, pro-change lobbyists have to convince politicians that there is more to gain electorally from voting for the reform than from voting against it. I argue that a new balance in the relative power of competing organized groups is a key component to make politically costly policy changes possible.


The causal effect of digital lobbying: a Whatsapp experiment  

Under Review

What is the effect of organized groups on the voting behavior of deputies on politically infeasible policies? A  vast strand of research in political science posits that profound economic reforms, such as changes in the pension system, are rare because lawmakers fear retaliation by voters, and pressure from groups who have much to lose, consequently fighting for the status quo. This chapter provides an original measure of the influence of business interest groups on a topic that involved the whole country and that clearly was the target of organized strategies by unions, which focused on the potential electoral challenges for those who voted against the pension reform. I present an original field experiment, conducted at the Brazilian Congress.


The power of partisanship versus policy, pork, performance and personal traits. Evidence from Brazil 

Under Review

Studies about voting behavior across developing democracies, in general, and in Brazil in particular, focus on at least five “P” variables: the policy positions of candidates, performance in office, personal characteristics, partisanship, and the capacity to deliver pork, a particularistic benefit that the voter receives from candidates. Many of these explanations are correlated, and much less attention is given to the relative importance that voters give to each one of these particular elements when facing trade-offs in their decision-making process. Voting is a multidimensional choice. While different elements might matter for different voters, their relative importance might vary across types of voters. Citizens might relate to politics in terms of current issues, but many do not. As proposed by Zaller (2012), narrow issue concerns, group-related evaluations, and pocketbook evaluations are among the means by which the latter group relate to politics. Using three different conjoint experiments in Brazil, I present evidence that while the five Ps matter, they do so differently for different types of voters. I show that Brazilian voters use more positive and negative partisanship cues when selecting their candidates for Congress than previously assumed, that pork matters consistently across levels of education and income, that performance matters more for nonpartisan voters, and that “issue” voting depends on the salience and polarization of the specific topics. These findings have repercussions for the study of voting behavior in developing democracies.

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