Incumbency Advantage in Brazilian Mayoral Elections

35 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 31 Aug 2011

See all articles by Thomas Brambor

Thomas Brambor

Stanford University - Department of Political Science; Alexander Hamilton Center at NYU

Ricardo Ceneviva

Rio de Janeiro State University - Institute for Social and Political Studies

Date Written: 2011


Do incumbents enjoy an electoral advantage in a context of institutional instability? In many consolidated democracies, such as the U.S. or the U.K., incumbency status is a critical factor for the success of candidates. In contrast, evidence from the developing world points to no advantage or even adverse effects of holding office for the electoral chances of candidates. This paper contributes to this literature by developing a model of incumbency advantage that takes into account candidates' quality and the characteristics of localities.

Estimating whether incumbent candidates enjoy a favorable position in the electoral arena is not a trivial task. District preferences and the quality of both the incumbent and his challengers are usually unobserved and likely introduce biases into our estimation when omitted from the model. Weakly institutionalized and volatile party systems do not allow us to control for district preferences with the distribution of partisan preferences in past elections. For the same reasons, regression discontinuity results, which have successfully been employed in the U.S. context to estimate the incumbency advantage of parties, may not be applicable.

We show that using repeated encounters of candidates can ameliorate many of these concerns and provide inferences unhampered by unobserved characteristics of the electoral district or the quality of the candidates competing in the election. This approach enables us to go beyond previous studies that suffer from various sources of bias.

Municipal elections in Brazil, one of the largest democracies in the world, provide an excellent empirical testing ground for the model. In 1997, the Brazilian Congress amended the federal constitution to allow incumbents of executive offices the possibility of reelection. For the first time in seven decades incumbents were permitted to run for a second term.

Using data on Brazilian municipal elections from 1996 to 2008, we estimate whether and under which conditions Brazilian mayors enjoy an electoral incumbency advantage. In a second step, we estimate which part of this advantage is due to the difference in candidate quality and which part is due to the effect of incumbency status per se. Lastly, Brazil's 5500 municipalities provide a great amount of sub-national variation in wealth, inequality, ethnic heterogeneity, and education. We examine whether the effects of incumbency can be traced to any of these factors as suggested in the cross-national literature.

Keywords: incumbency advantage, Brazil, local elections, political behavior

Suggested Citation

Brambor, Thomas and Ceneviva, Ricardo, Incumbency Advantage in Brazilian Mayoral Elections (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Thomas Brambor (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States


Alexander Hamilton Center at NYU ( email )

715 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
United States

Ricardo Ceneviva

Rio de Janeiro State University - Institute for Social and Political Studies ( email )

Rua da Matriz, 82
Rio de Janeiro, RJ 22260-100
+55 21 2266 8300 (Phone)


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