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Legislative malapportionment and institutional persistence


  • Bruhn, Miriam
  • Gallego, Francisco
  • Onorato, Massimiliano


This paper argues that legislative malapportionment, denoting a discrepancy between the share of legislative seats and the share of population held by electoral districts, serves as a tool for pre-democratic elites to preserve their political power and economic interests after a transition to democracy. The authors claim that legislative malapportionment enhances the pre-democratic elite’s political influence by over-representing areas that are more likely to vote for parties aligned with the elite. This biased political representation survives in equilibrium as long as it helps democratic consolidation. Using data from Latin America, the authors document empirically that malapportionment increases the probability of transitioning to a democracy. Moreover, the data show that over-represented electoral districts are more likely to vote for parties close to pre-democracy ruling groups. The analysis also finds that overrepresented areas have lower levels of political competition and receive more transfers per capita from the central government, both of which favor the persistence of power of pre-democracy elites.

Suggested Citation

  • Bruhn, Miriam & Gallego, Francisco & Onorato, Massimiliano, 2010. "Legislative malapportionment and institutional persistence," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5467, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:5467

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Block, Steven A. & Kiess, Lynnda & Webb, Patrick & Kosen, Soewarta & Moench-Pfanner, Regina & Bloem, Martin W. & Peter Timmer, C., 2004. "Macro shocks and micro outcomes: child nutrition during Indonesia's crisis," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 21-44, March.
    2. McKenzie, David J, 2006. "The Consumer Response to the Mexican Peso Crisis," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(1), pages 139-172, October.
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    4. Jed Friedman & James Levinsohn, 2002. "The Distributional Impacts of Indonesia's Financial Crisis on Household Welfare: A "Rapid Response" Methodology," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 16(3), pages 397-423, December.
    5. Zahoor ul Haq & Hina Nazli & Karl Meilke, 2008. "Implications of high food prices for poverty in Pakistan," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 39(s1), pages 477-484, November.
    6. Angus Deaton & Salman Zaidi, 2002. "Guidelines for Constructing Consumption Aggregates for Welfare Analysis," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 14101.
    7. Simler, Kenneth R., 2010. "The short-term impact of higher food prices on poverty in Uganda," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5210, The World Bank.
    8. Wodon, Quentin & Tsimpo, Clarence & Backiny-Yetna, Prospere & Joseph, George & Adoho, Franck & Coulombe, Harold, 2008. "Potential impact of higher food prices on poverty : summary estimates for a dozen west and central African countries," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4745, The World Bank.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sebastian Galiani & Iván Torre & Gustavo Torrens, 2016. "Fiscal Federalism and Legislative Malapportionment: Causal Evidence from Independent but Related Natural Experiments," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 28(1), pages 133-159, March.
    2. Baland, Jean-Marie & Robinson, James A, 2011. "The Political Value of Land: Democratization and Land Prices in Chile," CEPR Discussion Papers 8296, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item


    Parliamentary Government; Labor Policies; Emerging Markets; Political Economy; Political Systems and Analysis;

    JEL classification:

    • H1 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • N46 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism
    • P48 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - Political Economy; Legal Institutions; Property Rights; Natural Resources; Energy; Environment; Regional Studies

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