Dirty Politics: Electoral Pollution Cycles in Mexico

Shiran Victoria Shen | Assistant Professor of Environmental Politics, University of Virginia

Monday, April 1, 2019 12:15 PM to 1:30 PM


Does electoral accountability harm voters? Air pollution is an invisible killer that claims more than 5.5 million lives annually worldwide. In this paper, we study the effect of electoral incentives on a critical public goods provision — air quality. Building upon the theory of the political pollution cycle (Shen 2018), we find that local politicians in Mexico will accommodate the preferences of their constituencies by engaging in activities that have short-term electoral and economic returns but would generate pollution unintentionally, imposing negative health consequences for the public. We leverage the exogenous variation in electoral timing in Mexican states and municipalities and measure its effect on pollution levels. Our paper contributes to the study of electoral incentives in young, unconsolidated democracies. It also sheds light on how voters fail to internalize the tradeoff between economic growth and environmental quality.