Can Information that Raises Voter Expectations Improve Accountability? A Field Experiment in Mali
Abstract: This paper studies the political effects of a particular type of information intervention: one that improves voter expectations of government capacity. I argue that if citizens systematically underestimate what their government is capable of, then voting on the basis of performance is of little consequence, and politicians in turn have little incentive to perform well. I report evidence from a randomized field experiment in Mali that tests whether improving voter information about the scope of government effects voting behavior. A civic education course was provided to 370 villages in 64 randomly assigned municipalities dispensing information on the responsibilities of local government and the basics of democratic accountability to all treated villages, with an additional component on relative government performance to half of treated villages. A survey was then conducted in the 64 treated and 31 control municipalities. Voting simulations show that people in treated villages are more likely to vote based on performance: a poor-performing candidate had to pay more to buy votes of citizens in treated communities, and the votes of citizens in control communities were more easily swayed by dimensions such as kinship or gift-giving. Suggestive evidence points to two possible mechanisms underlying this behavior: treatment raised expectations of local government and improved coordination among voters. A behavioral outcome measure – the likelihood that villagers challenge local leaders at a town hall meeting – confirms the positive treatment effects found in the survey measures.
A PhD Candidate in my fifth year at Stanford, I am conducting research on political development and government accountability in poor countries. My dissertation focuses on one developing democracy, Mali. Variation across Mali's 703 democratically-run municipalities permits comparative analysis of the determinants of accountability at the local level. Preliminary studies show a widespread lack of information about local governance among citizens. This motivated an experiment I am running in a selection of Malian municipalities to assess the impact of civic education on voter behavior and local government performance. I received an MA in Economics from Stanford in 2011 and plan to complete the PhD in Political Science in 2013.
Last modified Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 6:13am