Controlling the Airwaves: Incumbency Advantage and Community Radio in Brazil


  • For helpful comments, we are grateful to Ben Allen, Thad Dunning, Eduardo Gómez, Francesca Jensenius, Jody LaPorte, Scott Mainwaring, Elizabeth Levy Paluck, Neal Richardson, David Samuels, Terri Towner, four anonymous reviewers, and seminar participants at the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University; and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Thanks to the Kellogg Institute for research support, and to Eduardo Leoni, Lúcio Rennó, and Cesar Zucco for data assistance. Replication data are available at or

Taylor C. Boas is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Boston University, 232 Bay State Rd., Boston, MA 02215 ( F. Daniel Hidalgo is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, 210 Barrows Hall #1950, Berkeley, CA 94720 (


Direct influence over communication media is a potent resource during electoral campaigns, and politicians have an incentive to gain control of the airwaves to advance their careers. In this article, we use data on community radio license applications in Brazil to identify both the causal effect of incumbency on politicians’ ability to control the media and the causal effect of media control on their future electoral prospects. Using a regression discontinuity design, we compare city council candidates who barely won or barely lost an election, showing that incumbency more than doubles the probability of an application’s approval by the Ministry of Communications. Next, using genetic matching, we compare candidates who acquired community radio licenses before an election to similar politicians who did not, showing that a radio station substantially increases one’s vote share and probability of victory. These findings demonstrate that media control helps entrench local political power in Brazil.