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Diaz-Cayeros, Magaloni, and Weingast: Tragic brilliance

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Diaz-Cayeros, Magaloni, and Weingast. 2003. Tragic brilliance: Equilibrium hegemony and democratization in Mexico. Manuscript.

In Brief


How do unpopular one-party regimes continue to attract votes (as the PRI did)?

The Lit's (incorrect) Answers

  • Coercion: If this were the answer, authoritarian states wouldn't be more likely to fall during rough economic times--yet they are.
  • Legitimacy through economic success: The PRI endured several rough economic times. So this can't be the whole answer.

Argument: A 'tragic' and 'brilliant' solution

  • Tragic: They force citizens to accept corruption, inefficient policies, and poor government service.
  • Brilliant: They create incentives so that citizens willingly vote for them anyway. Rather than vote retrospectively (against PRI), voters vote prospectively (to avoid losing clientelistic benefits that the PRI can provide).

The Model

Central Funding of Municipalities

To gain a foothold, an opposition party would need to win some local races. But municipal governments depend on the central government for their money. And the PRI credibly threatens to dramatically reduce funding to (i.e. punish) any municipality that elects an opposition party. Thus, in order for the local government to be able to continue to function, citizens have strong incentives to vote for PRI, not an opposition party.

Two Additional Factors Hurting the Opposition

  1. No record in the national government, therefore no credibility on policy promises.
  2. No access to central government's funds, therefore can't commit to provide roads, water, sewage, power, etc., without PRI's support.

Three Trends that Weaken the PRI (from comparative statics)

  1. Economic collapse in the 1980s and the 1994 Peso crisis reduced the resources available to the PRI to reward supporters.
  2. Economic modernization differentiated localities, making some more likely to defect from the PRI.
  3. Biggie: The Mexican economy's growing internationalization allowed people to get wealth on their own: More jobs, more integration with the US, and more remittances from family working in the US gave voters a credible exit strategy from the PRI.


  • Holding other factors constant, opposition municipalities do receive less money from the capitol.
  • The municipalities most likely to defect are those facing the greatest opportunity costs to staying under the inefficient PRI (i.e. the three variables listed above).