I am an Assistant Professor in the Business, Government and the International Economy (BGIE) unit at Harvard Business School. Prior to joining HBS, I was a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute. I received my Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley, where I am currently a Research Associate at the Center on the Politics of Development.
My main research interests are in comparative politics and the political economy of development, with a focus on corruption, public goods provision, and accountability in Latin America. I also study the formation of citizen and ex-combatant attitudes and their role in stabilizing peace in post-conflict settings. In my dissertation, I examined the informational and institutional environments that pave the way for the rise and success of outsider candidates.
I hold an M.A. in Economics from the University of Los Andes (Colombia). Prior to my Ph.D., I worked at the World Bank, the Democracy Observatory, and the Colombian National Planning Department.
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Photo credits: Santiago Iregui.
PhD in Political Science, 2021
University of California, Berkeley
MA in Political Science (with distinction), 2016
University of California, Berkeley
MA in Economics, 2013
Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia
BA in Political Science, 2012
Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia
BA in Economics, 2012
Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia
Corruption and the Rise of Political Outsiders: Evidence from local elections and audits in Brazil
How does corruption salience influence the entry of political outsiders? While revelations about corruption are known to influence citizens’ votes, it is unclear whether outsiders take advantage of new opportunities provided by corruption scandals to contest elections. I argue that corruption is a valence issue that allows outsider candidates to draw support from disaffected voters across the ideological spectrum. Using manifestos registered by over forty-nine thousand mayoral candidates in Brazil who ran for election between 2012 and 2020, I construct a novel measure of candidates' use of anti-corruption rhetoric and show that outsider candidates are more likely to resort to this valence appeal. I then exploit revelations of corruption in Brazilian mayoral accounts, using random annual audits conducted by the federal government, to test whether outsider candidates are more likely to take advantage of changes in the salience of corruption. Results indicate that municipalities exposed to such shocks experienced a greater entry of outsider candidates. This paper shows that changes in corruption salience can help overcome barriers to entry for outsider candidates, thereby providing motivation for future research as to the downstream consequences of these shocks, including on democratic backsliding.
Does compulsory voting breed anti-establishment voting? Evidence from Brazilian presidential elections
Public opinion surveys show rising levels of distrust in parties and anti-elite preferences among voters worldwide. By capitalizing on this sentiment, anti-establishment candidates have increasingly won office in new and established democracies alike. Yet, certain institutional arrangements may be more conducive to the electoral success of these candidates. In this paper, I argue that compulsory voting may boost anti-establishment candidates by encouraging turnout among voters who would have otherwise abstained. At the voting booth, these voters are more likely to vote for candidates who align with their anti-establishment sentiment. I test this theory in the context of Brazil’s 2018 presidential election, leveraging age thresholds that make voting compulsory at the individual level as well as randomized variation in the proportion of compulsory voters across voting booths. I demonstrate that compulsory voting led to a sizable increase in electoral support for anti-establishment presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. My findings underscore how critical turnout is for the prospects of anti-establishment candidates, as well as the unexpected effect of an institution often thought to bolster the quality of democracy.
The nature, sources, and consequences of citizens’ anti-establishment sentiments: Evidence from two Latin American countries
Loreto Cox and Natalia Garbiras-Díaz
While recent studies examine anti-establishment parties and candidates, fewer focus on citizens' anti-establishment sentiments, which we define as an intense and angry animosity toward political elites and distrust of political parties. What are the sources of these sentiments? What are their causal effects on political attitudes and voting behavior? We answer these questions using panel survey data from Colombia and Peru ahead of the 2022 elections. Specifically, we combine priming and conjoint experiments with text analysis of open-ended questions. We find that anti-establishment sentiments are widespread, span the ideological spectrum, and stem mainly from perceptions of corruption and unfulfilled promises. They do not make citizens less democratic but reduce trust in institutions. We also find that candidates who use anti-establishment appeals gain an electoral advantage, which then weakens citizens' punishment of anti-democratic candidates. In Colombia, where voting is voluntary, we also find mobilizing effects of anti-establishment sentiments. Overall, we advance the understanding of citizens' disillusionment with politicians, a pervasive global phenomenon.
Prospective and retrospective approaches: conflict exposure and attitudes on the peace agreement in Colombia (R&R at International Interactions)
Aila M. Matanock, Miguel García-Sánchez, and Natalia Garbiras-Díaz
There is no clear consensus on the effect of exposure to conflict on attitudes towards peace agreements. For example, in Colombia, some suggest that exposure to FARC violence increases support for peace (Dávalos et al., 2018; Tellez, 2019); others show that attitudes towards the peace process are not strongly correlated with conflict experiences (Hazlett and Parente, 2020; Liendo and Braithwaite, 2018; Nussio et al., 2015). In this paper, we contribute to this debate. While most work assumes that those exposed to violent contexts use their past experiences with violence to form their attitudes toward peace agreements, we argue that people living in these regions form their opinions about the accords by weighing the future benefits that they will have access to after a peace agreement is signed. Using new survey data from a matched sample of municipalities in Colombia, we test the effects of past violence and being a potential beneficiary of the agreement on four sets of outcomes: general attitudes towards peace; provisions included in the accord that directly benefit former combatants; provisions that potentially benefit regular citizens; and the actual expected benefits. We find that previous experience with violence has almost no association with these attitudes; however, being a resident of a locality targeted by provisions that potentially provide peace dividends has a consistent and strong impact on these attitudes.
Do Third Parties Reduce Commitment Problems After Civil War? Microfoundational Evidence from Ex-Combatants in Colombia
Leopoldo Fergusson, Natalia Garbiras-Díaz, Juana García, Michael Weintraub and Laia Balcells
Since the Cold War, international third parties such as the United Nations (UN) have become frequent guarantors of peace agreements. Existing studies demonstrate that third parties ameliorate credible commitment problems, in part by reducing acute security threats faced by members of former rebel groups. Yet these studies exclusively marshal evidence at the macro-level, and are therefore unable to show whether ex-combatants are truly reassured by the presence and activities of third parties, and in what ways. Using a novel phone survey of 4,435 ex-combatants from the FARC-EP, Colombia’s largest rebel group, and an embedded survey experiment, we provide the first microfoundational test of prominent third party credible commitment theories. We find no evidence that third actors: increased confidence among ex-combatants that the government would fulfill its commitment to implement the peace agreement; increased confidence that the FARC would do the same; improved perceptions of physical safety; or increased trust in institutions more generally. Put differently, we are unable to recover microfoundational evidence in favor of third party credible commitment theories. We discuss potential explanations for these null findings and the study’s relevance for debates about conflict termination, implementation of the agreements and the duration of peace.
Actitudes de exintegrantes de las Farc–EP frente a la reincorporación
Ana Arjona, Leopoldo Fergusson, Natalia Garbiras-Díaz, Juana García-Duque, Tatiana Hiller, Lewis Polo and Michael Weintraub
En agosto del 2019 se cumplieron dos años de la reincorporación de las Farc-EP. Este proceso es uno de los principales desafíos de la implementación del Acuerdo Final firmado entre el Estado colombiano y la organización guerrillera en noviembre de 2016. Los avances en materia de reincorporación garantizarán su sostenibilidad. En este documento analizamos las actitudes de los exintegrantes frente al proceso en esta primera etapa, tomando los resultados del Registro Nacional de Reincorporación (RNR), realizado entre la Agencia Nacional de Reincorporación (ARN) y el componente Farc del Consejo Nacional de Reincorporación (CNR). Tras mostrar que hay aspectos positivos en las actitudes de las personas en proceso de reincorporación, y algunos que deben mirarse con preocupación, estudiamos qué características de los exintegrantes y su entorno se asocian con mejores actitudes y condiciones para la implementación del proceso de reincorporación. Complementamos este análisis contrastando las actitudes de la población en proceso de reincorporación con las de la población civil, haciendo paralelos, en términos de los retos de política pública, para ambos grupos. La evidencia presentada sirve para canalizar esfuerzos en donde más parecen necesitarse.
Untouchable Forces: Restoring Trust in Security in Weak States?
Aila M. Matanock and Natalia Garbiras-Díaz
How can weak states improve security? We build on existing work theorizing that a crucial component of strengthening security is improving citizen perceptions of the institutions providing security and then thereby securing their cooperation with those institutions. We examine whether foreign missions that states invite to conduct security functions, "delegation agreements" (DAs), are able to change citizens' perceptions on these dimensions. We argue DAs are likely to improve citizen perceptions of security while they are operating but to have little transfer effect to state institutions. We test the theory by examining the U.N.'s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a team of investigators and prosecutors that operated in Guatemalan courts from 2007-2019, which was a canonical and seemingly successful DA. In this "most likely" case to detect any transfer effects, we use a survey experiment to examine, first, whether invoking CICIG as a case investigator increases citizen beliefs that the perpetrators and their state collaborators will be correctly identified, prosecuted, and convicted. We find that the CICIG prime does have consistently positive effects. We then examine citizen perceptions of institutions, and, measuring several outcomes, we find that CICIG has little transfer effect to state security institutions, although a successful CICIG may reduce the legitimacy of the state to some extent. Our results identify a positive effect from this foreign mission but no overall shift in citizen perceptions and subsequent pathway to increased security through their cooperation.
The pacifying role of education: The case of Radio Sutatenza
Natalia Garbiras-Díaz and Laura García-Montoya
Between 1947 and 1994, Radio Sutatenza influenced the lives of millions of Colombians through its broadcasted lessons and *Escuelas Radiofónicas*. In this paper, we explore the effects of Radio Sutatenza and Escuelas Radiofónicas on armed conflict intensity. That is both on violence and on the expansion of armed group presence. The findings of this paper advance our understanding of the relationship between education and civil war. The context in which Radio Sutatenza was created and its later phase of expansion offers a unique opportunity to study whether education can break violence cycles. We estimate the effect of Escuelas Radiofónicas on the incidence of violence at the municipal level using two different identification strategies, a difference in differences design and an instrumental variables approach. We find robust evidence for the pacifying effect of education at the subnational level. Specifically, municipalities with radio schools experienced lower violence levels in the 1960s and, later, in the 1970s.
The Limits of Decentralized Administrative Data Collection: Experimental Evidence from Colombia
Natalia Garbiras-Díaz and Tara Slough
States collect vast amounts of data for use in policymaking and public administration. To do so, central governments frequently solicit data from the bureaucrats of decentralized government entities. Because central governments use these data in policymaking, bureaucrats in decentralized entities may face incentives to report inaccurately, limiting the quality of state data. We study these dynamics in the production of Colombia’s 2020 National Transparency Index in collaboration with the Colombian Attorney Inspector General’s office. A field experiment varied the salience of direct oversight of the reported data by this watchdog agency in direct communication to individual bureaucratic entities. Bureaucrats respond to more salient oversight by changing reporting behavior. Through an independent audit of subjects’ transparency practices, we describe how bureaucrats’ reporting behaviors vary in the actual transparency practices of their organization. We argue that the strategic dynamics inherent to decentralized data production by bureaucrats render state data an important but understudied political outcome.
Can the Size of the Legislature Decrease Government Efficiency? Evidence from Colombia's Councils
Mario Chacón and Natalia Garbiras-Díaz
Can the size of the legislature affect the efficiency and quality of public administration? Recent empirical work on the economic consequences of legislative organization has focused exclusively on the relationship between legislative size and fiscal spending. We expand the scope of this literature by exploring the impact of bigger legislative bodies on the efficiency of public service provision. We use a constitutional rule which creates a discontinuous relationship between population and size of elected councils in Colombia to estimate the effect of legislature size on the efficiency of local public goods. Theoretically a bigger councils should increase the checks and accountability on the local executive, and thus leading to higher and better quality public goods provision. Yet we find no systematic evidence for such positive mechanism. Moreover, we find preliminary negative and signifficant effects on fiscal and administrative efficiency, particularly in small cities. Our results indicate a more nuanced relationship between legislative size and government efficiency, and complement the theoretical literature on public overspending.
Social Norms and the Persistence of Corruption: Experimental evidence of individuals' attitudes and behavior related to corruption in Latin America
Despite systematic efforts by both countries and the international community to reduce its prevalence, corruption remains a pervasive phenomenon across the developing world. What explains the persistence of corruption? Furthermore, can social norms account for some of this persistence? In this paper, I study the effect of injunctive norms (the perceived moral rules that determine the approval or disapproval of social behavior) and descriptive norms (the perceived frequency of a conduct in a particular context) on individuals' behavior and attitudes towards corruption. I explore this question using a survey experiment conducted in Argentina, which isolates alternative explanations for corruption. I randomly show respondents vignettes that manipulate either the descriptive or injunctive norm. I then ask them to answer a series of questions that measure their attitudes toward bribery (e.g., the extent to which they consider bribery to be justifiable, among other questions), as well as other behavioral outcomes. While I find empirical evidence for the effect of descriptive norms on both individuals' attitudes and behavior related to corruption; I find no statistical support for the effect of injunctive norms on any of the analyzed outcomes. Taken together, results suggest that descriptive norms operate as informational devices, and that correcting misperceptions about these may serve as an antidote against corruption. To the best of my knowledge, little work has been done to identify the causal effect of social norms, and their interactions, on corruption. In this respect, this paper makes two contributions. From a theoretical perspective, it contributes to a growing body of research on the effect of culture on corruption, providing evidence on the causal relationship between social norms and attitudes toward bribery. From a policy perspective, it sheds light on methods to successfully design anti-corruption campaigns that reduce individuals' likelihood to engage in petty corruption.
Title: Paving the way for the rise of outsiders: candidate and voter behavior in the era of political disillusionment
Committee: Thad Dunning (Chair), Aila Matanock, Ruth Collier & Jennifer Bussell
My dissertation studies the causes and consequences of anti-establishment political candidates. Across many young and advanced democracies alike, citizens are disillusioned with political and party systems. In this context, I argue that anti-establishment and anti-corruption appeals provide promising campaign devices for political challengers seeking to mobilize those disenchanted voters. Yet, the effectiveness of these appeals varies across informational and institutional environments, as I explore in different parts of my dissertation.