DP14919 Eat Widely, Vote Wisely? Lessons from a Campaign Against Vote Buying in Uganda

Author(s): Christopher Blattman, Horacio Larreguy, Benjamin Marx, Otis Reid
Publication Date: June 2020
Keyword(s): Africa, Elections, field experiment, voting behavior
JEL(s): C93, D72, O55
Programme Areas: Public Economics, Development Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=14919

We estimate the effects of one of the largest anti-vote-buying campaigns ever studied---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 treatment intensity. Despite its heavy footprint, the intervention did not reduce offers of gifts in exchange for votes. However, it had sizable effects in the polling booth. Votes swung from well-funded incumbents (who buy most votes) towards their poorly-financed challengers. Qualitative and quantitative evidence suggests the swing arose from tactical responses by candidates as well as changes in village norms. Specifically, while the campaign struggled to instill norms of refusing gifts, it convinced some voters to abandon reciprocity---to accept gifts but vote for their preferred candidate. This leveling of the electoral playing field led challengers to buy votes in markets where they had previously been deterred from entering.