Selected Publications

Recent emphasis on credible causal designs has led to the expectation that scholars justify their research designs by testing the plausibility of their causal identification assumptions, often through balance and placebo tests. Yet current practice is to use statistical tests with an inappropriate null hypothesis of no difference, which can result in the equating of non-significant differences with significant homogeneity. Instead, we argue that researchers should begin with the initial hypothesis that the data is inconsistent with a valid research design, and provide sufficient statistical evidence in favor of a valid design. When tests are correctly specified so that difference is the null and equivalence is the alternative, the problems afflicting traditional tests are alleviated. We argue that equivalence tests are better able to incorporate substantive considerations about what constitutes good balance on covariates and placebo outcomes than traditional tests. We demonstrate these advantages with applications to natural experiments.
American Journal of Political Science, 2018

In this paper, we show that Brazilian voters strongly sanction malfeasant mayors when presented with hypothetical scenarios but take no action when given the same information about their own mayor. Partnering with the State Accounts Court of Pernambuco, we conducted a field experiment during the 2016 municipal elections in which the treatment group received information about official wrongdoing by their mayor. The treatment has no effect on self-reported voting behavior after the election, yet when informing about malfeasance in the context of a vignette experiment, we are able to replicate the strong negative effect found in prior studies. We argue that voters’ behavior in the abstract reflects the comparatively strong norm against corruption in Brazil. Yet on election day, their behavior is constrained by factors such as attitudes toward local political dynasties and the greater salience of more pressing concerns like employment and health services.
American Journal of Political Science, 2018

One of the most robust findings on political institutions is that compulsory voting (CV) reduces the participation gap between poorer and wealthier voters. We present evidence that in Brazil, the largest country to use such a rule, CV increases inequality in turnout. We use individual-level data on 140 million Brazilian citizens and two age-based discontinuities to estimate the heterogeneous effects of CV by educational achievement, a strong proxy for socioeconomic status. Evidence from both thresholds shows that the causal effect of CV on turnout among the more educated is at least twice the size of the effect among those with less education. To explain this result, which is the opposite of what is predicted by the existing literature, we argue that nonmonetary penalties for abstention primarily affect middle- and upper-class voters and thus increase their turnout disproportionately. Survey evidence from a national sample provides evidence for the mechanism. Our results show that studies of CV should consider nonmonetary sanctions, as their effects can reverse standard predictions.
Political Analysis, 2016

To enhance government accountability, reformers have advocated strengthening institutions of “horizontal accountability”, particularly auditing institutions that can punish lawbreaking elected officials. Yet, these institutions differ in their willingness to punish corrupt politicians, which is often attributed to variation in their degree of independence from the political branches. Taking advantage of a randomized natural experiment embedded in Brazil’s State Audit Courts, we study how variation in the appointment mechanisms for choosing auditors affects political accountability. We show that auditors appointed under few constraints by elected officials punish lawbreaking politicians—particularly co-partisans—at lower rates than bureaucrats insulated from political influence. In addition, we find that even when executives are heavily constrained in their appointment of auditors by meritocratic and professional requirements, auditors still exhibit a pro-politician bias in decision making. Our results suggest that removing bias requires a level of insulation from politics rare among institutions of horizontal accountability.
Comparative Political Studies, 2016

Recent Publications

More Publications

. An Equivalence Approach to Balance and Placebo Tests. American Journal of Political Science, 2018.

PDF Replication Archive Online Appendix

. Norms versus Action: Why Voters Fail to Sanction Malfeasance in Brazil. American Journal of Political Science, 2018.

PDF Project Online Appendix Pre-Analysis Plan

. Horizontal But Not Vertical: Accountability Institutions and Electoral Sanctioning in Northeast Brazil. Metaketa I: The Limits of Electoral Accountability. Thad Dunning, Guy Grossman, Macartan Humphreys, Susan Hyde, and Craig McIntosh, eds. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

PDF Project Pre-Analysis Plan

. Voter Buying: Shaping the Electorate through Clientelism. American Journal of Political Science, 2016.

PDF Replication Archive Online Appendix

. Controlling the Airwaves: Incumbency Advantage and Community Radio in Brazil. American Journal of Political Science, 2011.

PDF Replication Archive Online Appendix

Recent Posts

A recent trend in quantitative political science is the increasing attention to the multiple testing problem in hypothesis testing. As we examine more and more dependent variables or subgroups in a given study, the potential for falsely rejecting at least one null hypothtesis due to chance increases. Despite this being a widely recognized problem in statistical theory, relatively few studies implement corrections that adjust p-values in order to guard against false positives.

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As an outside observer of Brazil, it’s hard to be optimistic. Who can pick just one reason? The country is struggling to emerge from a historically severe economic crisis. The president is historically unpopular, credibly accused of corruption, and lacks democratic legitimacy. The political class has been utterly discredited by the ongoing Lava Jato scandal. A front runner for the upcoming presidential election is a Duterte-like authoritarian demogogue. One could go on.

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Teaching

  • 17.801 Quantitative Research Methods I: Regression (Fall 2017).
  • 17.802 Quantitative Research Methods II: Causal Inference (Spring 2017).
  • 17.S592 Elections and Representation in Developing Democracies (Spring 2017).
  • 17.830 Empirical Methods in Political Economy (Fall 2015).
  • 17.831 Data and Politics (Spring 2016).

Contact

  • dhidalgo@mit.edu
  • 77 Massachusetts Avenue, E53-402, Cambridge, MA 02142
  • Email for appointment