Guillermo Toral Receives the 2021 Harold D. Lasswell Award

The Harold D. Lasswell Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best doctoral dissertation in the field of public policy. 

Guillermo Toral is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University and a Faculty Affiliate at MIT GOV/LAB. He works in the fields of comparative politics and political economy, with a regional focus on Latin America and a substantive focus on issues of development, governance, and corruption. His research agenda centers on relationships among state actors (politicians, bureaucrats, and anti-corruption agents) and how they shape public service delivery and human development. In his work, Guillermo uses big administrative datasets, surveys, and extensive qualitative fieldwork to shed light on dynamics of government accountability and public service delivery. He is writing a book on The political logics of patronage, distinguishing the strategic uses that local politicians in Brazil make of public employment and how those uses impact government accountability and the quality of public services. Guillermo earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from MIT in 2020. Prior to joining MIT, he spent several years working on education policy and human development programs at the World Bank in Washington DC and across Latin America. 

Citation from the Award Committee: 

We are pleased to select “The Political Logics of Patronage: Uses and Abuses of Government Jobs in Brazil” for the 2021 Harold Lasswell Prize.  This outstanding dissertation offers major theoretical and empirical contributions towards understanding the many uses of patronage, its impact on bureaucratic implementation of public policy, and ultimately social service provision.  

This persuasively argued and deeply researched dissertation proposes a number of theoretical innovations. It theorizes cycles in the hiring and firing of bureaucrats and the activities of public employees (‘political-bureaucratic cycles’) and delves into bureaucrats’ political and social connections to politicians (‘upward embeddedness’).  The dissertation also details a valuable fivefold typology that explicates the main factors driving politicians’ use of government jobs in different sometimes positive and other times negative ways. Although the empirical testing focuses on Brazil, the theory is applicable beyond the Brazilian case.  

This research draws upon a breathtaking range of empirical tests and data sources and offers a compelling mixed methods approach: 18 months of ambitious fieldwork including 121 interviews, two original survey experiments, and the collection of novel administrative microdata including indicators of street-level service performance in schools and health clinics. The triangulation of these varied data collection efforts along with a sophisticated analytical approach allows for an important and convincing major finding to emerge—that patronage is a powerful and surprisingly versatile political and governance resource.  

While the negative outcomes of patronage are well-known, this dissertation shows how patronage can alleviate agency problems and thus enhance the accountability and effectiveness of bureaucrats. Moreover, the work reveals how policies aimed at reducing patronage can have undesirable consequences. This dissertation should force scholars and policymakers to reconsider when patronage may be desirable, not for politicians, but for the public. The committee is delighted to bestow the 2021 Harold D. Lasswell Prize on this excellent piece of research. 


APSA thanks the Policy Studies Organization for its support of the award and the committee members for their service: Colleen M. Grogan (Chair), University of Chicago; Dr. Ursula Hackett, Royal Holloway, University of London; and Dr. Jeffrey R. Henig, Columbia University.