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Crisp, Moreno, and Shugart: The accountability deficit in Latin America

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Crisp, Moreno, and Shugart. 2003. The accountability deficit in Latin America. In Democratic Accountability in Latin America.



Over decades, Latin American dissatisfaction with government has led to all sorts of "accountability" reforms; however, most of these reforms have merely established new superintendents. Latin America's real problem is faulty vertical accountability: legislators are not responsive to voters, and voters do not sanction bad leaders at the ballot box. If voters "could and would punish misdeeds," then "separate agencies of superintendence would be unnecessary" (p 82).

Agents cannot hold agents accountable, only their principals can. Thus, this article locates the gaps in Latin America's vertical accountability and suggests better ways of fixing them than simply creating new superintendents.

SOME DETAILS (Timea's summary)

Separate institutions must also have different incentives, countervailing ambitions. This can be threatened when informal hierarchical relations exist between independent branches (i.e. inter-branch bargaining of votes for patronage). This short-circuits the horizontal exchange by placing the president in a de facto superior position. At this time superintendence institutions will be in demand.



Effective vertical accountability requires a fundamental party and electoral reform. Incentive structures have to be redesigned so that they maximize the potential for effective vertical accountability and so that legislators advance the broad interests of their citizens.

  1. The candidate selection process must enable legislators to feel that they serve a particular district/constituency, but to do so as members of a partisan delegation. The party cannot be emphasized over the district.
  2. Electoral rules must also be changed. Closed list systems, for example, can be either positive or negative, depending on the candidate-selection process that is used. The authors recommend the use of the mixed-member systems, where some members are elected in single-seat districts and some from party lists. This way, parties must present both candidates who are attractive to local constituencies and a party label that can attract list votes. Moderate forms of interparty competition may also provide a balance of incentives.

Research on similar subjects


Comparative PoliticsAccountabilityResponsivenessPrincipal-AgentVoting

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