Research

Publications

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.

Read the paper here. Preanalysis plan filed on the AEA registry (ID: AEARCTR-0000767).

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.

Traditional Leaders, Service Delivery and Electoral Accountability, with Kate Baldwin

Chapter forthcoming in: Jonathan Rodden and Erik Wibbels (eds). Decentralization. Cambridge University Press. Read the chapter here.

Meet the Candidates: Field Experimental Evidence on Learning from Politician Debates in Uganda, with Melina R. Platas

Chapter forthcoming in: Dunning, Grossman, Humphreys, Hyde, McIntosh, and Nellis (eds.): Information, Accountability, and Cumulative Learning. Lessons from Metaketa I. Cambridge University Press. Read the chapter here.

 

Working Papers

Does Political Oversight of the Bureaucracy Increase Accountability? Field Experimental Evidence from an Electoral Autocracy 

Poor governance is a key impediment to economic development. While a growing literature focuses on strengthening the accountability of politicians to voters, little research considers how politicians’ control over the bureaucracy influences service provision. In collaboration with the Ugandan Ministry of Finance, I conducted a field experiment involving 2,800 government officials across 260 local governments. The objective of the intervention was to empower local politicians to exercise closer oversight over the local bureaucracy through the dissemination of highly disaggregated financial information and trainings about their mandate and rights. In a second treatment arm, these tools were also offered to politicians’ opponents in an attempt to stimulate political competition. I find that the intervention increased local politicians’ monitoring effort and the frequency with which they seek to improve service delivery, but only in areas where the political leadership is not aligned with the central government. Offering the tools to political challengers did not have a differential effect. In contrast to scholars who argue that insulating bureaucrats allows them to do their jobs more effectively with less corruption, these findings imply that increased oversight by local politicians has the potential to serve as counterbalancing force in the context of a captured bureaucracy.

Read the paper here. 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

Closing the Gap: Information and Mass Support in a Dominant Party Regime, with Melina Platas.

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 lean- ing 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 leveling the informational playing field can strengthen electoral competition.

Read the paper here. 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 potentia;l for scale-up among high-level Ugandan policymakers here.

The Weakness of Bottom-Up Accountability: Experimental Evidence from the Ugandan Health Sector, with Daniel Posner and Doug Parkerson.

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. Modeled 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.

Read the paper and the preanalysis plan. Supported by: Department for International Development (DfID).

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

Short-term subsidies and seller type: A health products experiment in Uganda, with Greg Fischer, Dean Karlan, Margaret McConnellJournal of Development Economics, March 2019, 137, pp.110-124.

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.

Mixed Method Evaluation of a Passive mHealth Sexual Information Texting Service in Uganda, with Julian Jamison and Dean KarlanInformation Technology & International Development 9(3). 

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.

Read the paper hereCoverage in Businessweek,  IRIN,  Yale Alumni Magazine and thoughtful blog posts by Karen Grepin, Melina Platas, and Mike Miesen.

Policy papers and reports

“Political Knowledge and Political Participation: Improving USAID Program Design and Evaluation”, with Thad Dunning and Daniel N. Posner

“Randomized Control Trials: A New Approach to Assessing Anti-Corruption Policies”, ACRN

“Local Governance in Uganda”, with Lucy Martin