Harvesting Influence: Landowners and Democracy in Brazil


Belén Fernández Milmanda. Working Paper. “Harvesting Influence: Landowners and Democracy in Brazil”.


How do agrarian elites protect themselves from redistribution under democracy? Prominent scholarship in comparative politics argues that landowners oppose democratization because the fixed nature of their assets makes them more vulnerable to expropriation. However, these theories overlook landowners’ capacity to organize politically and use democratic institutions to their advantage. I present a novel electoral strategy by which landowners have successfully blocked redistributive policies in democratic Brazil: a multi-party congressional caucus. Contra earlier work, the Brazilian case shows that economic elites can gain electoral representation in the absence of a strong conservative party. Through an analysis of the Bancada Ruralista, I study the factors explaining agrarian elites’ decision to enter the electoral arena as well as the determinants of their electoral strategies. I argue that agrarian elites' strategies of political influence are shaped by two factors: (1) the level of threat they perceive; and (2) their degree of political fragmentation at the local level. Empirically, I test this argument through process tracing. Theoretically, I argue that this multi-party strategy is better suited for interest group political representation in contexts of high party fragmentation and ideologically loose parties. 

Last updated on 09/03/2018