NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Why Do Voters Dismantle Checks and Balances?

Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson, Ragnar Torvik

NBER Working Paper No. 17293
Issued in August 2011, Revised in December 2012
NBER Program(s):Political Economy

Voters often dismantle constitutional checks and balances on the executive. If such checks and balances limit presidential abuses of power and rents, why do voters support their removal? We argue that by reducing politician rents, checks and balances also make it cheaper to bribe or influence politicians through non-electoral means. In weakly-institutionalized polities where such non-electoral influences, particularly by the better organized elite, are a major concern, voters may prefer a political system without checks and balances as a way of insulating politicians from these influences. When they do so, they are effectively accepting a certain amount of politician (presidential) rents in return for redistribution. We show that checks and balances are less likely to emerge when the elite is better organized and is more likely to be able to influence or bribe politicians, and when inequality and potential taxes are high (which makes redistribution more valuable to the majority). We also provide case study evidence from Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela and econometric evidence on voter attitudes from a Latin American survey consistent with the model.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w17293

Published: Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson & Ragnar Torvik, 2013. "Why Do Voters Dismantle Checks and Balances?," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(3), pages 845-875. citation courtesy of

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