Ideology & social networks: the politics of social policy diffusion in Brazil

Sugiyama, Natasha Borges
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This dissertation examines the politics of local social policy making following Brazil's re-democratization. Decentralization in Brazil granted municipalities responsibility to design and tailor social policies to meet local demands. Yet instead of developing their own programs many governments chose to adopt those made famous elsewhere. What accounts for the diffusion of innovations across Brazil? This dissertation tests three approaches for understanding policy makers' emulation decisions: political incentives, ideology, and socialized norms. Each of these three motivations reflects a different paradigmatic response to the question, what drives political behavior? A conventional political incentives approach follows a rational choice framework that incorporates neoclassical behavioral assumptions and posits people will behave strategically to further their own self-interest. The classic assumption in this vein is that politicians will seek to win re-election. On the other hand, scholars who adopt an ideational approach examine the way people make choices because of their ideological convictions. Rather than seek their own political self-interest, actors can make decisions in spite of themselves or others because of deeply held beliefs about what is right and how to enact social change. Lastly, a sociological approach examines how individuals conform to shared norms and seek legitimacy in the eyes of their colleagues. To test these motivational approaches I examine the diffusion of Bolsa Escola, an education program, and Programa Saúde da Família, a family health program. Evidence for my argument is based on statistical event history analysis and qualitative case study research from four exemplary cities. The electoral incentives approach offers a surprisingly weak explanation for the diffusion of innovative social policies. Rather, diffusion occurs when elected executives feel ideologically compelled to replicate programs and when policy professionals engaged in relevant networks seek to demonstrate their adherence to professional norms. Both ideology and social networks can work together in mutually reinforcing ways to promote diffusion.