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Samuels: The gubernatorial coattails effect

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Samuels. 2000. The gubernatorial coattails effect: Federalism and Congressional elections in Brazil. JOP.

In Brief

The Puzzle: Poor Party Aggregation (Linkage)

Cox (1997, 1999) has pointed out that national party systems are formed in two steps: (1) district-level phenomena create the district's number of parties, and (2) broader phenomena determine the degree of linkage/aggregation into a national party system. In Brazil, linkage is terrible. Though districts average 3.3 ENPP, Brazil (at the national level) averages 6.3, an astronomic number. Why?

The Solution: State-Based Politics and Gubernatorial Coattails

Unlike in the US, legislative coattails are not based on the president, they are based on the state's governor's race. (Recall that all federal legislators are chosen from each state's single, at-large district, which overlaps perfectly with the gubernatorial district.) Thus, candidates for Congress align themselves with a statewide (and single-state) coalition led by a gubernatorial candidate--and this gubernatorial candidate's success determines the state's Congressional vote as well. As a result, "congress is filled with many poorly nationalized parties, [due to] the 'gubernatorial coattails effect'" (p 241).

The Logic

Congressional candidates need to attach themselves to a larger movement, so that this larger movement can serve as a 'shortcut' that helps undecided voters decide to vote for the candidate.

  • Since there aren't strong national parties, party labels serve poorly as shortcuts.
  • Since presidential candidates are often seen as unfamiliar "foreigners," attaching your campaign to a presidential candidate wouldn't help much. Besides, presidents have few tools for influencing congressional elections (in Brazil).
  • But since gubernatorial canddiates are generally well-known within the state--and have a strong clientelistic network--congressional candidates can win votes by allying with a successful gubernatorial candidate.
  • And since gubernatorial elections often happen at the same time as congressional elections (but not as presidential elections, though this varies), that's all the more reason.

Implication: Weak parties in the national congress

Because they are loyal not to the president's program, or to a majority in congress, but to the state governor who helped them win. And if they tick off that governor, they might not be invited back into the governor's coalition next time around. And this is why even members of the president's party cannot be counted on to support the president--their first loyalty lies with the governor.