Do Authoritarian Elections Help the Poor? Evidence from Russian Cities
53 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2019
Date Written: May 2019
Do local elections under autocracy help the poor? We argue that local appointees in electoral authoritarian regimes have political incentives that undermine public service provision; regime leaders’ preoccupation with national electoral control encourages them to overlook local governance problems if subnational officials can still deliver requisite votes in national elections. Using geographic and temporal variation across Russian cities (2002-2012) in the elimination of mayoral elections, we investigate how mayoral appointments affect the maintenance of aging housing infrastructure. We find that, compared to elected mayors, appointed mayors allow more of their Soviet-era housing stock to become dilapidated and unsafe. Moreover, bad housing increases more in cities where appointees deliver high vote shares to the ruling party in national elections. Thus, while local elections under authoritarianism can improve local governance, the holding of semi-competitive national elections can actually undermine incentives for local appointees to provide public goods.
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