Why Do Voters Dismantle Checks and Balances?
NBER Working Paper No. 17293
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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This paper was revised on December 19, 2012