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Dissertation Summary


"Let the season of negotiations begin..."

"Service Provision in Unequal Democracies: Evidence from Brazil on How the Poor Get Shortchanged"

My dissertation asks why poor voters in Brazil have difficulty imposing their public health service preferences through voting, despite their numerical advantage in universal suffrage political representation. I address an inconsistency in the literature between theoretical expectations that the poor will have high voting leverage in democracies and the empirical fact that democracy is often an insufficient condition to promote the welfare of the poor. I formally elaborate and test an argument that helps make sense of the apparent incongruity between theory and observation.

My formal model shows that voters with more symmetrical preferences over public services that compete for a budget receive less weight in the allocation decisions of vote-maximizing, tactically-spending elected politicians  compared to voters that pile the weight of their votes on fewer services. When the better-off have fewer public service demands, but these demands are also concentrated on fewer services, service spending will be biased in favor of this group. This is true even when the institutions of electoral accountability are functioning properly.

I use original pre-election survey data to estimate revealed preferences for the poor and better-off in Brazil with respect to public health spending on primary care and hospital services. I also estimate the effects of an asymmetry-increasing shift in demands among voters who receive federal transfers. I use local public health spending and individual infant mortality data to demonstrate that increased asymmetry among the recipient group is associated with decreased policy influence of the non-recipient group with static preferences.  Expansion of the asymmetry-inducing federal transfer program in a municipality is associated with a corresponding shift in health spending away from the services preferred by the non-recipient poor. Individual infant mortality data links the service spending trend with losses in the overall welfare of the non-recipient group, even as the welfare of the recipient group improves.