Political Opposition, Legislative Oversight, and the Performance of the Executive Branch

68 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2019 Last revised: 8 Feb 2019

Date Written: February 6, 2019


The separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches is a cornerstone of democracy. This system of checks and balances, however, can be circumvented by partisan loyalties if legislators strategically avoid exerting oversight when their own party controls the executive branch. It is thus an empirical question whether the separation of powers prevents the abuse of power in practice. We answer this question by measuring the extent to which members of political opposition parties in a city council effectively check the mayor's performance in Brazil. We employ a regression discontinuity design to estimate the causal effect of an additional politically opposed legislator, and we find that political opposition increases oversight action and decreases corruption, with the effect fully concentrated on mayors facing reelection pressure. We trace the impact of oversight, via a reduction in healthcare spending irregularities, all the way to impacts on healthcare service delivery and health outcomes.

Keywords: Politicians, Corruption, Separation of Powers, Public Services

JEL Classification: D72, D73, H11, H83, O17

Suggested Citation

Poulsen, Alexander and Varjao, Carlos Eduardo, Political Opposition, Legislative Oversight, and the Performance of the Executive Branch (February 6, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3304209 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3304209

Alexander Poulsen (Contact Author)

Boston College ( email )

140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
United States

Carlos Eduardo Varjao

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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