How Criminal Governance Undermines Elections

22 November 2022, Version 3


How does criminal governance affect elections? Existing accounts explore various types of politician-criminal group relationships, but have largely overlooked the reasons why criminal groups might be appealing candidate partners. This paper considers why criminal groups might be effective brokers, arguing that criminal groups deliver votes through two mechanisms: (1) corralling mobilizes residents to the polls and (2) gatekeeping prevents rival candidates from accessing voters. I use a natural experiment that leverages exogenous variation in voter assignment and a novel dataset on criminal governance to test my theory in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I show that corralling increases turnout and influences vote choice, and gatekeeping restricts the candidate pool. Together, these mechanisms decrease electoral competitiveness. I illustrate the logic underpinning these brokerage relationships using in-person interviews and anonymous voter complaints. These findings bring together the literatures on clientelism and criminal governance to show why politicians might be motivated to hire criminals.



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