Electoral Rules and the Quality of Politicians: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment in Afghanistan

Andrew Beath, Fotini Christia, Georgy Egorov, Ruben Enikolopov

NBER Working Paper No. 20082
Issued in May 2014
NBER Program(s):   POL

We examine the effect of electoral rules on the quality of elected officials using a unique field experiment which induced randomized variation in the method of council elections in 250 villages in Afghanistan. In particular, we compare at-large elections, with a single multi-member district, to district elections, with multiple single member districts. We propose a theoretical model where the difference in the quality of elected officials between the two electoral systems occurs because elected legislators have to bargain over policy, which induces citizens in district elections to vote strategically for candidates with more polarized policy positions even at the expense of candidates' competence. Consistent with the predictions of the model, we find that elected officials in at-large elections are more educated than those in district elections and that this effect is stronger in more heterogeneous villages. We also find evidence that elected officials in district elections have more biased preferences.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20082

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