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Local Control: How Opposition Support Constrains Electoral Autocrats

Studies of distributive politics conceptualize incumbents as central planners allocating resources, constrained in how much they can distribute but not where. Non-democratic incumbents often use punishment regimes to sanction disloyalty.  In many non-democracies, local institutions are the infrastructure of reward and sanction, a legacy of widespread decentralization in the 80s and 90s. I show that incumbents face subnational constraints on their ability to enforce ‘punishment regimes’. Using interviews and list experiments in Tanzania, I demonstrate that local control  -- who controls local institutions in a subnational unit  -- determines the incumbent’s ability to monitor and sanction opposition support. Respondents in opposition communities fear individual sanctions less. Respondents in opposition local governments fear community sanctions less. By making it harder to impose costs on opposition support, loss of local control makes it harder for incumbents to manage competition. This suggests decentralization has more of a democratic legacy than existing scholarship suggests.


Paper available upon request

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