Rebecca B. Weitz-Shapiro Stanley J. Bernstein '65 P'02 Assistant Professor of Political Science

Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Brown University and a Faculty Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. She received her Ph.D. with distinction from Columbia University in May 2008. Her research focuses on the quality of representation and government accountability in Latin America. Her book, "Curbing Clientelism in Argentina: Politics, Poverty, and Social Policy," was recently published with Cambridge University Press (2014) and received the Donna Lee Van Cott Award from the Political Institutions Section of the Latin American Studies Association. She has ongoing projects that examine citizen attitudes towards corruption and mechanisms of state oversight in Brazil and Argentina. She has published articles in the American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, Comparative Politics, Comparative Political Studies, Journal of Politics in Latin America, Latin American Research Review, and Latin American Politics and Society.

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

scholarly work

Book

Curbing Clientelism in Argentina: Politics, Poverty, and Social PolicyCambridge University Press (2014) [Donna Lee Van Cott Award, LASA 2015] 

Peer-reviewed journal articles

"Can Citizens Discern? Information Credibility, Political Sophistication, and the Punishment of Corruption in Brazil" (with Matthew S. Winters), Journal of Politics, Forthcoming

"Who's in Charge Here? Voter Punishment of Municipal Corruption," 2016.  (with Matthew S. Winters), Political Research Quarterly 69(2): 207-219

"Political Corruption and Partisan Engagement: Evidence from Brazil," (with Matthew S. Winters) Journal of Politics in Latin America, April 2015 

"Lacking Information or Condoning Corruption: When Do Voters Support Corrupt Politicians?" (with Matthew S. Winters) Comparative Politics, July 2013

"What Wins Votes: Why Some Politicians Opt Out of Clientelism," American Journal of Political Science 56:3, 2012; [Sage Prize for Best Paper in Comparative Politics scheduled to be presented at the 2011 APSA Annual Meeting]

"The Link Between Voting and Life Satisfaction in Latin America" (with Matthew S. Winters) Latin American Politics and Society, 53:4, 2011

"Why primaries in Latin American presidential elections?" (with Ozge Kemahlioglu and Shigeo Hirano) Journal of Politics 71:1, 2009

"The local connection: Local government performance and satisfaction with democracy in Argentina," Comparative Political Studies, 41:3, 2008 [Best paper award from the Latin American Political Institutions Section (LAPIS) at the 2006 Latin American Studies Association Congress]

"Partisanship and protest: The politics of workfare distribution in Argentina," Latin American Research Review 41:3, 2006

Work in progress

"Overseeing oversight: The logic of appointments to subnational audit courts" (with Miriam Hinthorn and Camila Moraes)

"Third-Person versus Second-Person Vignettes in Survey Experimental Research" (with Matthew S. Winters)

"Continuity and Change in Public Attitudes toward Corruption," (with Kelly Senters and Matthew S. Winters)

"Who votes strategically? Evidence from Argentina," (with Matthew S. Winters)

 

research statement

Professor Weitz-Shapiro's research seeks to understand variation in political responsiveness and accountability in middle-income democracies. She has three major recently completed or ongoing projects that explore questions of political accountability in Latin America through the lens of clientelism, corruption, and state audit institutions.

A. Curbing clientelism: politics, poverty, and social policy in Argentina

This project explores the phenomenon of clientelism—the individualized, contingent exchange of goods or services for political support. In recent years, much attention has been paid to cases like Brazil and Mexico where the top-down reform of government social policy has been credited with greatly reducing clientelism.  But in a context where the national government makes no effort to curb this practice, might some local-level politicians nonetheless willingly abandon the use of clientelism in the distribution of goods and services?

To answer this question, Weitz-Shapiro argues for the importance of what she calls the “costs of clientelism”: although clientelism is an effective tool for getting votes from the poor, the practice simultaneously alienates non-poor voters, who see it as a signal of low quality governance and gain no direct benefits from clientelism. Thus, in a context of intense political competition, clientelism is valuable to politicians whose constituents are mostly poor, but its electoral costs grow as the size of the middle class increases. Weitz-Shapiro argues that while political competition alone is unlikely to create incentives for politicians to curb clientelism, the combination of high levels of political competition and a large middle class makes possible a subnational path away from clientelism and toward improved governance.

In “What wins votes: Why some politicians opt out of clientelism,” (AJPS 2012), Professor Weitz-Shapiro supports this theory through an examination of social policy implementation in a sample of Argentine municipalities. She further refines and tests this theory in Curbing clientelism in Argentina: politics, poverty, and social policy (Cambridge University Press, 2014).  The book employs additional empirical tests to provide evidence for the costs of clientelism among non-poor voters and to examine how partisanship mediates the abandonment of clientelism. 

B. Vertical accountability and control of corruption: the role of the public

While clientelism provides direct benefits to some citizens, corruption imposes costs on the vast majority of citizens while offering little or no benefits. Citizens in democracies at all levels of development report widespread dislike of corruption. Given this, what might explain the persistence of corruption among elected officials? Professor Weitz-Shapiro's second major project explores the phenomenon of political corruption, or the abuse of public office for private gain. While other researchers have emphasized institutional explanations for corruption, in this project, carried out jointly with Matthew S. Winters (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), the authors focus on citizens themselves.  In a democracy, if corrupt politicians are elected, it is because they have received the support of voters. Given popular distaste for corruption, why would this be the case, under what conditions are citizens most likely to actually punish corrupt politicians, and what are the broader implications of political corruption for the political system?

In a series of papers that draw on original experiments embedded in two nationally-representative surveys in Brazil (conducted in 2010 and 2013), Weitz-Shapiro and Winters argue and provide evidence that the extent to which citizens punish elected officials for corruption depends on two key factors: (1) the nature of information available about corruption, and (2) citizens’ abilities to process that information. They argue that citizens are most likely to act on specific, credible allegations of corruption, and that politically sophisticated citizens are the most sensitive to variation in information quality. In doing so, this project offers the most comprehensive theory and analysis to date of when and why citizens will act on their anti-corruption preferences. Through this project, they also contribute to the literature in political psychology by providing some of the very first evidence that the credibility of political information sources, isolated from citizen affinity for those sources, affects whether citizens incorporate new information.  An extension in Argentina is currently underway: in that part of the project, Weitz-Shapiro and Winters will examine how citizen responses to corruption information change when incentives created by a source’s credibility and an individual's own political allegiances are in conflict.  

C. Horizontal accountability and control of corruption: the role of government institutions

Guillermo O’Donnell famously distinguished between vertical accountability—the ability of citizens to hold the state to account through elections—and horizontal accountability, or the ability of the state to supervise itself. In this project, Professor Weitz-Shapiro emphasizes the connections between the two. Reliable information about government performance allows citizens to punish politicians for wrongdoing, and independent government oversight bodies are well positioned to produce and disseminate the information that voters need, yet in many cases they fail to perform this function. What explains why these oversight institutions sometimes perform the functions with which they are charged and at other times fail to do so?

In the first part of this project, Weitz-Shapiro focuses on the process by which the officials heading these agencies are appointed. She argues that variation in the intensity of political competition, party structure, and legislative career incentives shape the types of officials who are appointed to top positions on these courts, as well as their subsequent incentives. She will test these expectations using an original dataset on the identities of top-level officials in Argentina and Brazils’ subnational audit courts. To date, Weitz-Shapiro has completed a new, individual-level dataset on the 189 councilors who lead Brazil’s 27 state audit courts and she is currently collaborating with Transparencia Brasil to expand that dataset to include all councilors who have served on the Brazilian state audit courts at any time since the promulgation of Brazil’s democratic constitution in 1988. Initial results from the analysis of data on current councilors suggest, among other findings, that higher quality officials are more likely to be appointed during election years, and that constraints on executive branch discretion may create opportunities for legislative branch overreach. A working paper that presents these results (joint with Miriam Hinthorn and Camila Moraes) is available here: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2623788.

A second part of this project, currently in the planning stages, will focus on the incentives and performance of street-level bureaucrats within government oversight agencies. In collaboration with Ana de la O (Yale) and Lucas Gonzalez (UNSAM, Argentina), this part of the project will employ an experimental approach and be carried out in collaboration with Argentine provincial auditing agencies.

 

funded research

Salomon Faculty Research Award, Brown University, 2015

TOP USA Massachusetts Award (with Gabriel Cepaluni), 2013

Salomon Faculty Research Award, Brown University, 2010

National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant, August 2006

CIBER Doctoral Research Grant (Center for International Business Education and Research, Columbia University), Summer 2006

Institute for Latin American Studies (Columbia University) Tinker Summer Field Research Grant, Summer 2005

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, (2003-2006)