Natural Disasters and Clientelism: The Case of Floods and Landslides in Colombia
48 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2012 Last revised: 5 Jun 2013
Date Written: 2012
What are the effects of natural disasters on electoral results? Some authors claim that disasters have a negative effect on the survival of leaders in a democracy. This is because voters have a propensity to punish politicians for not preventing or poorly handling a crisis. Contrary to this expectation, this paper demonstrates that these events might be beneficial for political leaders. The mechanism proposed links disasters to leader survival through clientelism: disasters generate an inflow of resources in the form of donations and humanitarian aid, which increase cash and resources available for buying votes. The rainy season of 2010-2011 is considered the worst disaster of Colombia's history, with the occurrence of lethal floods and landslides that affected more than 8 percent of the population. This paper uses a difference-in-differences strategy to show that in the 2011 local election, incumbent parties benefited from the disaster. When compared to 2007, high levels of exposure to the disaster caused an increase in the probability of incumbent party reelection for the 2011 mayoral elections. The result is robust to different specications, including an instrumental variables approach that accounts for potential endogeneity in the number of victims produced by the disaster. Moreover, the allocation of humanitarian aid increases the probability of reelection, supporting the mechanism proposed by this paper.
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