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Ames: Electoral strategy under open-list proportional representation

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Ames. 1995. Electoral strategy under open-list proportional representation. AJPS.

In Brief

Question: How does the electoral system in Brazil affect the political strategy and campaign behavior of individual legislators?

(Ames' own summary may be a much better review) Open-list PR in Brazil is "at the core of Brazil's institutional crisis." The hypothesized answer is that sitting deputies are able to offer budget amendments to benefit their constituencies. Prior to an election year, these budget amendments will be targeted to benefit specific municipalities based on several variables: the cost of erecting barriers to entry, the dominance of the deputy in the municipality, the special concentration of the deputy's statewide vote, the vulnerability of the municipality to invasion by outsiders, the weakness of the deputy in the last election, and the deputy's prior political career.


Open-list PR

Members of Brazil's federal legislature are elected like US Senators: from state-wide, at-large districts (though they vary in size, unlike the Senate). Candidates win with the D'Hondt method: The party's vote share determines how many seats it gets, and these seats are allocated according to each candidate's vote share.

Implications of Open-List PR

Candidates can pursue one of four electoral strategies, determined by two dimensions (pg 410-411).

  • Dominance vs shared: They can either attempt to dominate a handful of municipalities or get less support across several municipalities.
  • Concentrated vs separated: They can either clump their support into neighboring municipalities, or look for separated municipalities.


"Logistic regression of amendments to the Brazilian national budget in 1989 and 1990 OLS regression of municipal-level electoral results for the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies in the 1990 election."


  • Dependent variable: Campaign behavior and spatial patterns of vote distribution (See "Background," above)
  • Independent variables:
  1. The cost of erecting barriers to entry. If you dominate a municipality, how hard is it to keep other candidates away? (e.g. if you can play the ethnic card, it's easy; if it's an urban municipality, you can't)
  2. the vulnerability of the municipality to invasion by outsiders. How strong is my support? (To keep my seat, I need to boost my party's vote share--not just my own. So I need to try to get votes from municipalities dominated/shared by members of other parties. If my municipalities aren't vulnerable to invasion, I'll spend lots of time trying to get votes from other people.)
  3. the weakness of the deputy in the last election.
  4. Challengers: the deputy's prior political career matters. If I'm coming from a local position, I will go for a dominant-concentrated strategy. If I'm coming from a position in the bureaucracy that provided pork to many people in the state, or from a statewide position, I will go for a shared (maybe dominant), separated strategy.

Results: "Deputies seek secure bailiwicks, search for vulnerable municipalities and strive to overcome their own electoral weakness by delivering pork. Candidates' tactics vary due to their career trajectory, and to variance in the characteristics of states.

This all leads to less voter control over deputies, more pork, and weaker party programs and discipline."