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Bloc Voting and Grassroots Politics in Brazil

How do citizens influence the distribution of public services? Community associations can provide a platform for voters to increase their bargaining power towards politicians, who monitor the aggregate votes of groups at polling stations. Community associations can help voters to coordinate before elections and pressure politicians after elections.


This project contributes to our understanding of distributive politics and democratic accountability by emphasizing the collective agency of citizens as they interact with brokers and politicians. I focus on access to water, which is an essential and often scarce resource that is prone to political manipulation.


I argue that 1) community activity and 2) leadership strength enable a group to coordinate its votes before an election and get the attention of politicians after the election. In communities with high community activity, group members participate in associational activities and are more likely to mobilize for a candidate and protest after elections. In communities with strong leadership, an opinion leader responds to community preferences, competes for the leadership position, and is repeatedly elected. Strong leaders are more likely to serve as political brokers and facilitate access to services.


During 20 months of fieldwork in 2016-2017 and 2022, I collected extensive qualitative and quantitative evidence from Ceará state in Northeast Brazil. I illustrate the theoretical mechanisms by drawing on 104 interviews with rural residents, local leaders, and bureaucrats. I conduct statistical analysis of large-scale household surveys fielded in 2017 and 2019 with up to 1900 respondents from 120 rural communities in 10 municipalities. The surveys are merged with precinct-level electoral data.


I find that communities with high community activity and constant leadership have more reliable and secure water access. I find evidence for my main mechanism: organized communities are more likely to concentrate their vote, and bloc voting improves water access. The same communities continue to concentrate their votes over time, though many switch allegiance across elections.

The book project is the extension of my dissertation. To complete the book project, I added two conjoint experiments to explore my primary mechanisms and will use archival data to trace city council legislative activity over time. I conducted additional qualitative interviews in 2022 with government officials at electoral agencies, city council members and bureaucrats, and residents and community leaders in communities that I interviewed in 2017.

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