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  • Author: Neelanjan Sircar
  • Publication Date: 09-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: This paper develops a theory on how voters form and change political preferences in democratic developing world contexts. In the developing world, where state institutions are often weak, voters tend to be more focused on the competence and capacity of parties and candidates to deliver benefits. Such information may be difficult to ascertain, so voters must glean information from how candidates conduct themselves during the electoral campaign. Voters use kinship networks to develop more accurate preferences by collectively reasoning through newly available information on candidates. In order to demonstrate these claims, this study analyzes data collected on political preferences and kinship networks in two villages just before and after the campaign period during the 2011 Assembly election in the Indian state of West Bengal. The paper finds very strong kinship network effects on changes in issue preferences and vote choice over the course of the campaign and explains the results through qualitative work and a series of network autoregressive statistical models. In sum, this paper demonstrates how voters develop independent preferences and implement political change, even in low information contexts with weak human capital.
  • Topic: Democratization, Politics, Self Determination, Elections
  • Political Geography: India
  • Author: Mark Schneider, Neelanjan Sircar
  • Publication Date: 08-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: The literature on decentralized public programs suggests that errors in the targeting of anti-poverty programs are rooted in the capture of these programs by local elites or local politicians. Consistent with the literature on moral economy in political science and experimental economics, we argue that voters in contexts of rural poverty prefer local leaders who target subsistence benefits to the poor. In a high information village context, where voters and leaders know each other, we argue that local elections lead to the selection of local leaders with pro-poor preferences over the distribution of these benefits. We show this with a novel theory of local politicians’ social preferences. We test our theory with unique data from a behavioral measure, conducted in the context of a lottery with a modest cash prize in rural India, that captures a scenario in which local leaders have full discretion and anonymity over allocation among members of their rural communities. We analyze our data using a novel estimation strategy that takes the characteristics of the pool of potential beneficiaries into account in decisions over allocation under a budget constraint. We find that local leaders have strong preferences for targeting the poor, and particularly those they believe supported them politically in the past. This article suggests that free and fair elections at the local level can powerfully encourage pro-poor targeting even in contexts of weak institutions and pervasive poverty. It also makes a fundamental contribution to research on distributive politics by challenging research in this area to demonstrate the effect of electoral strategies and other distortions on allocation relative to local leaders’ baseline distributive preferences.
  • Topic: Democratization, Economics, Politics, Political Theory, Elections
  • Political Geography: India