Guillermo Toral-Vanderbilt University

The benefits of patronage: How the political appointment of bureaucrats can enhance their accountability and effectiveness


The political appointment of bureaucrats is typically seen as a rent-seeking strategy whereby politicians sustain clientelistic networks and manipulate public administration to their advantage. I argue that political appointments can also increase bureaucratic accountability and effectiveness in public service delivery because they provide political and social connections between bureaucrats and politicians. These connections provide access to material and immaterial resources, enhance monitoring, facilitate the application of sanctions and rewards, align priorities and incentives, and increase mutual trust. In certain conditions, political con- nections can thus enhance bureaucratic responsiveness and effectiveness. I test this theory with data on Brazilian municipal governments, leveraging two quasi-experiments, two original surveys of bureaucrats and politicians, and in-depth interviews. The findings challenge the traditional view of patronage as universally detrimental for development, and draw attention to how political appointments and connections can be leveraged for public service delivery.


Guillermo Toral is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, and a Faculty Affiliate at MIT GOV/LAB. He works in the fields of comparative politics and political economy, with a regional focus on Latin America and a substantive focus on issues of development, governance, and corruption. His research agenda centers on relationships among state actors (politicians, bureaucrats, and anti-corruption agents) and how they shape public service delivery and human development. In his work, Guillermo uses big administrative datasets, surveys, and extensive qualitative fieldwork to shed light on dynamics of government accountability and public service delivery. He is writing a book on The political logics of patronage, distinguishing the strategic uses that local politicians in Brazil make of public employment and how those uses impact government accountability and the quality of public services. Guillermo earned his PhD in Political Science from MIT in 2020. Prior to joining MIT, he spent several years working on education policy and human development programs at the World Bank in Washington DC and across Latin America.

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