Eat Widely, Vote Wisely? Lessons from a Campaign Against Vote Buying in Uganda
We estimate the effects of one of the largest anti-vote-buying campaigns ever studied — with half a million voters exposed across 1427 villages—in Uganda’s 2016 elections. Working with civil society organizations, we designed the study to estimate how voters and candidates responded to their campaign in treatment and spillover villages, and how impacts varied with campaign intensity. Despite its heavy footprint, the campaign did not reduce politician offers of gifts in exchange for votes. However, it had sizable effects on people’s votes. Votes swung from well-funded incumbents (who buy most votes) towards their poorly-financed challengers. We argue the swing arose from changes in village social norms plus the tactical response of candidates. While the campaign struggled to instill norms of refusing gifts, it leveled the electoral playing field by convincing some voters to abandon norms of reciprocity—thus accepting gifts from politicians but voting for their preferred candidate.
For implementation we thank the Alliance for Election Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Uganda; we are particularly indebted to Teresa Lezcano Cadwallader, Henry Muguzi, Simon Osborn, and Ivan Tibemanya. We are grateful to Kelsey Barrera, Alex Nawar, and Harrison Pollock for their outstanding research management and assistance in Uganda, to the entire executive staff at IPA Uganda for ensuring the completion of the survey work, and we thank Peter Deffebach and Patryk Perkowski for excellent research assistance in the United States. We also thank Pia Raffler and Melina Platas Izama for sharing data and providing advice on field operations. We benefited from helpful comments and suggestions from Daron Acemoglu, Aislinn Bohren, Erika Deserranno, Michael Kremer, Marco Gonzalez-Navarro, Edmund Malesky, Ben Olken, Berk Ozler, Nancy Qian, Jorg Spenkuch, David Stromberg, Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro, and the EGAP peer response system (in particular, Katherine Casey, Nahomi Ichino and Macartan Humphreys), and participants at APSA 2016, CAF Development Bank of Latin America, Harvard University, the Institute for International Economic Studies (IIES) at Stockholm University, MIT, Northwestern University, Ryerson University, UCL, the University of Houston, the University of Toronto, Uppsala University, Warwick University, and WPSA 2017. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the J-PAL Governance Initiative and the International Growth Centre. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
I would like to report that I was employed as a Project Associate (2010-2011), and subsequently as a Project Coordinator (2011-2013) by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), a non-profit based in New Haven, CT, USA.
Besides this position, I have no relevant financial interests that relate to the research described in this paper.