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Election Integrity and Political Responsiveness in Developing Democracies: Evidence from Ghana


In this dissertation, I examine the causal effect of election integrity on the responsiveness of elected officials in developing democracies. In many countries, domestic and international organizations regularly support interventions aimed at reducing electoral fraud. These efforts are rooted in the belief that fairer elections will strengthen the ability of citizens to control politicians and promote political responsiveness. However, we have no empirical support for this widely held belief. I describe a field experiment that randomized the deployment of roughly 1,300 election observers at different intensities across 60 electoral constituencies in Ghana. I leverage this experiment to test the effects of fairer elections on the responsiveness of Members of Parliament (MPs). Because the higher concentration of observers was associated with lower levels of election-day fraud and violence, the random assignment of election observation intensities across constituencies provides an instrument for levels of election integrity.I assess responsiveness using original data on how MPs in Ghana allocate their state- provided Constituency Development Funds to provide private benefits and public infrastructure to constituents. The results show that politicians elected in intensely monitored elections spend more of their CDFs, suggesting that fairer elections increase the effort of incumbents. Decomposing this effect, intense monitoring increases MPs’ spending on public goods but does not affect the level of private goods provision. Moreover, legislators elected in constituencies that had a higher presence of observers are more likely to abide by the national procurement laws when spending their funds, indicating that fairer elections also promote good governance. Overall, the findings suggest that the quality of elections is an important determinant of political responsiveness and provide the first causal evidence of the connection between election integrity and the performance of elected officials.

To explain my findings, I hypothesize that MPs exposed to high-intensity monitoring in the past improve their performance in office because they do not expect to have opportunities to commit fraud in future elections. I contend that the ability of politicians to rig elections influences incumbents’ levels of effort to meet the expectations of constituents. The ability to manipulate elections allows politicians to substitute fraud for effort without facing electoral consequences.

To investigate the effects of clean elections on the behavior of politicians, researchers need to manipulate incumbents’ beliefs about the integrity of future elections. To manipulate these expectations, I implement an experiment that randomized information to 60 of 120 MPs to say that they should expect to receive intense monitoring of their constituencies in Ghana’s December 2016 parliamentary elections. The control group did not receive such a letter. I argue that such information should motivate incumbents to work harder to satisfy the demands of citizens because they believe that they cannot rely on election-day fraud. Analysis of election results from the December 2016 election provides tentative support for my hypothesis. Future analyses of legislator spending of CDFs in 2016 would provide a definitive assessment of my primary explanation of the causal effect of fair elections on political responsiveness.

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