Electoral Incentives for Public Good Provision: Evidence from Three Linked Field Experiments in Liberia

Wayne Sandholtz (UC San Diego)
Mauricio Romero (ITAM)
Justin Sandefur (Center for Global Development)

Abstract: Under some theories of democracy, voters hold politicians accountable for providing growth-inducing public goods which are undersupplied by the market, such as education. But there is very little empirical evidence on whether and when there are direct electoral rewards for public good provision -- and the persistence of poor-quality public goods in many democracies implies the existence of nontrivial obstacles to this kind of accountability. We provide the first experimental measure of the impact of improved schools on electoral outcomes, leveraging the geographically randomized pilot of a public-private school partnership in Liberia. The policy caused an increase in voter registration and vote share for incumbent representatives, especially those from the ruling party. Electoral gains for other ruling-party candidates were concentrated in places where test score gains were largest. We explore incomplete information as an obstacle to accountability, using two additional experiments. In a candidate survey, randomly selected political candidates were given information about the policy's impact. In a household survey, randomly selected respondents were provided with information about candidates' positions on the policy. We explore the conditions in which information appears to be a binding constraint.