Why Citizens Don’t Hold Politicians Accountable for Air Pollution

Tariq Thachil, Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Encina Hall West, Room 400

Urban citizens in low-income democracies rarely hold elected officials accountable for toxic air. To understand why, we fielded a large citizen survey in the highly polluted megacity of Delhi. We find no evidence of conventional explanations for accountability failures: residents are aware of pollution’s adverse impacts, do not privilege development over curbing emissions, and are not fractured along class or ethnic lines on this issue. Instead, survey experiments reveal partisanship and sensitivity to the potential private costs of mitigation policies reduce accountability pressures. On the other hand, a randomized intervention (sharing indoor air quality information) that personalizes the costs of air pollution increases its electoral salience. We reveal key opportunities and constraints for mobilizing public opinion to reduce air pollution in developing democracies.


Tariq Thachil is Professor of Political Science, Madan Lal Sobti Chair for the Study of Contemporary India, and Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India. His research focuses on political parties and political behavior, identity politics, urbanization and migration, with a regional focus on India. His first book examines how elite parties can use social services to win mass support, through a study of Hindu nationalism in India, and was published by Cambridge University Press (Studies in Comparative Politics) in 2014. This project won the 2015 Gregory Luebbert Award for best book in comparative politics, and the 2015 Leon Epstein Award for best book on political parties, from the American Political Science Association.

His second book (co-authored with Adam Auerbach) is forthcoming with Princeton University Press (Studies in Political Behavior), and focuses on the political consequences of urbanization, drawing on qualitative and quantitative data collected across years of fieldwork in informal settlements in north India. His related work on the politics of urbanization has won the 2018 Heinz Eulau Prize for best article published in the American Political Science Review, and 2020 American Journal of Political Science Best Article Award.