Fault Lines: The Effects of Bureaucratic Power on Electoral Accountability, with Lucy Martin. Forthcoming in the American Journal of Political Science.
This paper introduces a new explanation for why citizens may fail to vote based on government performance. We argue that when politicians have limited capacity to control bureaucrats, citizens will not know whether government performance is a good signal of the incumbent’s type. We develop a selection model of elections in which policy is jointly determined by a politician and a bureaucrat. When politicians have limited power over policy, elections perform poorly at separating good and bad types of incumbents. We test the model’s predictions using survey experiments conducted with nearly 9,000 citizens and local officials in Uganda. We find that citizens and officials allocate more responsibility to politicians when they are perceived as having more power than bureaucrats. The allocation of responsibility has electoral consequences: when respondents believe that bureaucrats are responsible for performance, they are less likely to expect that government performance will affect the incumbent’s vote share.
Preanalysis plan filed on the AEA registry (ID: AEARCTR-0000767).
Closing the Gap: Information and Mass Support in a Dominant Party Regime, with Melina Platas. Forthcoming in the Journal of Politics.
What role does information play in shaping mass support in dominant party settings? We conduct a field experiment during the 2016 Ugandan parliamentary elections that provides voters with information about candidates from all competing political parties. Specifically, we produce and screen video-recorded candidate interviews in randomly selected villages just prior to the election. We find that voters have lower baseline knowledge about opposition candidates compared to ruling party candidates. The information treatment reduced this knowledge gap and caused voters to update more positively about the opposition. Further, those who watched the videos were less likely to vote for ruling party candidates, and those initially leaning toward ruling party candidates were more likely to vote for the opposition. These findings suggest that information asymmetries play a role in sustaining mass support for ruling parties in dominant party settings, and that levelling the informational playing field can strengthen electoral competition.
This study is one of seven projects selected for funding by the first EGAP Metaketa Initiative on Information and Accountability. Supported by: EGAP Information and Accountability Metaketa Initiative, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, and International Republican Institute/USAID. Read the preanalysis plan, filed on the EGAP registry (ID: 20150820AA). Watch a panel discussion about the results and potential for scale-up among high-level Ugandan policymakers here.
Voter information campaigns and political accountability: Cumulative findings from a pre-registered meta-analysis of coordinated trials, with Thad Dunning, Guy Grossman, Macartan Humphreys, Susan Hyde, Craig McIntosh, Gareth Nellis, Claire Adida, Eric Arias, Clara Bicalho, Taylor C. Boas, Mark T. Buntaine, Simon Chauchard, Anirvan Chowdhury, Jessica Gottlieb, F. Daniel Hidalgo, Marcus Holmlund, Ryan Jablonski, Eric Kramon, Horacio Larreguy, Malte Lierl, John Marshall, Gwyneth McClendon, Marcus A. Melo, Daniel L. Nielson, Paula M. Pickering, Melina R. Platas, Pablo Querubín, and Neelanjan Sircar.
Forthcoming, Science Advances.
Ungated version here.
Chapter in: Jonathan Rodden and Erik Wibbels (eds). 2019. Decentralized Governance and Accountability. Cambridge University Press.
Chapter in: Dunning, Grossman, Humphreys, Hyde, McIntosh, and Nellis (eds.). 2019. Information, Accountability, and Cumulative Learning. Lessons from Metaketa I. Cambridge University Press.
Revise and Resubmit
Does Political Oversight of the Bureaucracy Increase Accountability? Field Experimental Evidence from an Electoral Autocracy (R&R at the American Political Science Review)
Recognizing that poor governance hinders development, a growing literature studies accountability of politicians to voters. This paper instead considers accountability relationships within governments—the ability of politicians to implement policies by holding bureaucrats responsible for their actions. In collaboration with the Ugandan government, I conducted a field experiment involving 2,800 officials across 260 local governments. The objective of the intervention was to empower local politicians to exercise closer oversight over the bureaucracy through training and the dissemination of financial information. The intervention increases local politicians’ monitoring effort and user satisfaction with local government projects, but only in areas where the political leadership is not aligned with the central government. In areas that are under ruling-party control, politicians fear uncovering mismanagement of funds. In contrast to scholars arguing that insulating bureaucrats allows them to do their jobs more effectively, these findings imply that too strong a bureaucracy can hamper political accountability.
Preanalysis plan filed on the AEA registry (ID: AEARCTR-0000402). Supported by: The International Growth Centre and Hewlett Foundation.
Best Field Work Award by the Comparative Democratization Section, APSA
We evaluate the impact of a large-scale information and mobilization intervention designed to improve health service delivery in rural Uganda by increasing citizens’ ability to monitor and apply bottom-up pressure on underperforming health workers. Modelled closely on the landmark “Power to the People” study (Björkman & Svensson 2009), the intervention was undertaken in 376 health centers in 16 districts and involved a three-wave panel of more than 14,000 households. We find that while the intervention had a positive impact on treatment quality and patient satisfaction, it had no effect on utilization rates or health outcomes (including child mortality). We also find no evidence that the channel through which the intervention affected treatment quality was citizen monitoring. The results hold in a wide set of pre-specified subgroups and also when, via a factorial design, we break down the complex intervention into its two most important components. While our findings validate the power of information provision to change the behavior of frontline service providers, they cast doubt on the power of information to foster community monitoring or to generate improvements in health outcomes, at least in the short term.
Best Paper Award by the Experimental Research Section, APSA
News, Accountability, and Electoral Rules: The Impact of Media Markets on Local Accountability under Majoritarian and PR Rules in Germany
This paper examines the differential impact of media coverage on representatives’ behavior across different electoral systems. Taking advantage of an original data set on newspaper circulation, of exogenous variation in spatial congruence between media markets and constituencies, and of the mixed electoral system in Germany I answer two questions: First, what is the extent to which media coverage influences the roll call voting behavior of politicians? Second, how does this effect differ between systems of majoritarian and proportional representation (PR)? I find that a one unit increase in the level of congruence between media markets and constituencies decreases a direct MP’s propensity to vote in line with his/her party leadership by an average of 4 to 7 percentage points, while it has no effect on list MPs. I do not find an effect of congruence on absenteeism or committee membership. This paper makes two main contributions. First, it uses a new identification strategy to estimate the responsiveness of representatives elected through PR and majoritarian rules to media coverage. Second, it presents an original, highly disaggregated dataset on newspaper circulation and MP behavior in Germany.
Read the paper here.
Publications in Development Economics
Pricing policy for any experience good faces a key tradeoff. On one hand, a price reduction increases immediate demand and hence more people learn about the product. On the other hand, lower prices may serve as price anchors and, through a comparison effect, decrease subsequent demand. This tension is particularly important for the distribution of health products in low-income countries, where free or heavily subsidized distribution is a common but controversial practice. Based on a model combining the learning aspect of experience goods with reference-dependent preferences, we set up a field experiment in Northern Uganda in which three health products differing in their scope for learning were initially offered either for free or for sale at market prices. In line with prior studies, when the product has the potential for positive learning, we do not find an effect of free distribution on future demand. However, for products without scope for positive learning, we find evidence of price anchors: future demand is lower after a free distribution than after a distribution at market prices.
Read the paper here.
We evaluate the impact of a health information intervention implemented through mobile phones, using a clustered randomized control trial augmented by qualitative interviews. The intervention aimed to improve sexual health knowledge and shift individuals towards safer sexual behavior by providing reliable information about sexual health. The novel technology designed by Google and Grameen Technology Center provided automated searches of an advice database on topics requested by users via SMS. It was offered by MTN Uganda at no cost to users. Quantitative survey results allow us to reject the hypothesis that improving access to information would increase knowledge and shift behavior to less risky sexual activities. In fact, we find that the service led to an increase in promiscuity, and no shift in the perception of norms. Qualitative focus groups discussions support the findings of the quantitative survey results. We conclude by discussing a potential mechanism explaining the counterintuitive findings.
Policy papers and reports
“Randomized Control Trials: A New Approach to Assessing Anti-Corruption Policies”, ACRN
“Local Governance in Uganda”, with Lucy Martin