GLD Working Papers

Brazilian Subnational Pandemic and Everyday Health Politics

Adan S. Martinez


Despite historical experience and health state capacity, Brazil struggled to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas past administrations have proactively mobilized resources to combat epidemics, Bolsonaro’s administration took a more passive role. The federal government’s relative absence forced state and municipal governments to plan and manage the pandemic response. At the state level, governors, across different political parties and varying loyalties towards Bolsonaro, banded together to procure vaccinations for their citizens. At the municipal level, mayors enacted a series of social and public health support measures. However, these responses were not universal, and there has been significant variation between and within municipalities.

What explains municipal variation in the enactment of pandemic-related public policies? Current studies focus on three explanations – political alignment, health state capacity, and diffusion – to explain policy implementation variation across and within countries at various levels of governance. While these studies are important to our knowledge of pandemic responses at the federal and state levels, there have been few studies examining these explanations at the local level. Using quantitative and qualitative evidence, this article argues that, while conventional wisdom holds in explaining pandemic responses, the mayor’s health training and population size mediate conventional explanations such as state capacity and political polarization.

This article makes two key contributions. First, it tests the conventional wisdom of pandemic responses at the municipal level, which is important to our understanding of local city dynamics and highlights key mechanisms that mediate the implementation of COVID-19 policy. Second, it provides alternative hypotheses, such as the mayor’s health training and population size, which are idiosyncratic to the level of analysis. This project is part of a larger project exploring the political motivations of COVID-19 implementation in Brazilian municipalities.

Key Words: COVID-19, Brazil, polarization, state health capacity, city governance, diffusion

Explaining Ethno-Regional Favouritism in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay and Elliott Green


A burgeoning literature on ethno-regional favouritism in Sub-Saharan Africa has largely found that Presidents favour their co-ethnic kin in the provision of public and private goods. However, this literature has largely remained empirically narrow in focus. To fill this gap, Bandyopadhyay and Green conducted the largest examination to date of ethno-regional favouritism in Sub-Saharan Africa across both public and private goods. Strikingly, they failed to find evidence of a positive effect of living in an area inhabited by the President’s co-ethnics. However, they did document the existence of a “co-ethnic bonus,” whereby individuals in co-ethnic areas had higher opinions of the government, viewed themselves as subjectively better off, and rated government performance on service delivery higher, even after controlling for the services in question. This argument is consistent with evidence from previous literature on how having co-ethnics in power generates positive psychological or “psychic” benefits separate from material.

Keywords: African Development; Co-Ethnicity; Ethnic Politics; Clientelism; Public Goods 

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Politics in the Urban Periphery: Citizen-Led Expansion and Informality at the Edges of India’s Cities

Adam Auerbach and Tanu Kumar 


Why are some privately developed neighbourhoods on the outskirts of India’s cities incorporated into municipal governance while others are not? And what are the consequences of uneven incorporation for public service provision? This paper explores these questions in the context of peripheral private developments in India. Peripheral private developments are planned neighbourhoods at the urban-rural edge that frequently exhibit informalities stemming from weak or absent zoning approval. First, Adam and Tanu explore how variation in authorization by the city shapes neighbourhood access to basic public services. Next, they show how collective action among residents influences patterns of neighbourhood-level authorization. Their study draws on qualitative interviews and neighbourhood-level data collected from the urban development authority in Jaipur, a rapidly growing city of four million people. The authors interviewed neighbourhood leaders across 25 of Jaipur’s cooperative housing society colonies—a common type of peripheral private development. These interviews with local leaders, as well as interviews with officials and data collected from the urban development authority, provide novel insights into the political economy of these proliferating yet understudied spaces. 

Do Voters Prefer Relief Over Preparedness? Evidence from Disaster Policies in Malawi

Felix Hartmann


Growing evidence suggests that voters reward politicians for spending on disaster relief but not disaster preparedness. Yet, we know little about the mechanisms that underpin this pattern. I propose that voters value effective preparedness as much as effective relief. However, voters have pessimistic expectations about the effectiveness of preparedness policies compared to relief policies. I test the mechanisms using a conjoint experiment in rural Malawi where participants choose between two hypothetical candidates randomly varying attributes about their prevention and relief policies. I find that respondents reward relief efforts over preparedness efforts, but they value effective preparedness similarly to effective relief. Additionally, respondents are more likely to reward preparedness efforts if they lead to effective outcomes. These findings have important implications for the design of disaster policies.