Ulric B. and Evelyn L. Bray Social Sciences Seminar
Abstract: In many theories of electoral accountability, voters learn about an incumbent's quality by observing public goods outcomes. But empirical findings are mixed, suggesting that increasing the visibility of these outcomes only sometimes improves accountability. I reconcile these apparently conflicting findings by highlighting bureaucrats' role in the production of public goods. In a simple model of electoral accountability involving a voter, a politician, and a bureaucrat, I show that accountability relations yield distinct empirical implications at different levels of bureaucratic quality. These predictions explain divergent empirical findings from two large literatures. To illustrate how my model makes sense of these otherwise inconsistent results, I develop a new method — a theoretically structured meta-study — to synthesize existing findings. The theory and evidence I present suggests that a common model of electoral accountability that allows for variation in bureaucratic quality can reconcile conflicting findings on accountability from multiple contexts.