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Political Mobilization in Coastal India: A Randomized Field Experiment on the Impact of Television on Voting Behavior in India
Faculty: Rohini Pande (HKS)
The growth of media access in the developing world suggests that television may be a means for providing information to potential voters. However, no previous study has examined how television advertising can empower voting populations in a developing county.
Summary of Research
This research examined the effect of television information campaigns on voters in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It used a randomized experiment to evaluate the role of nonpartisan information campaigns delivered via cable television in the run-up to the March 2009 elections. These information campaigns featured television ads that present non-partisan information about candidate qualifications and past performance, which are compared to electoral outcomes in treatment and control villages to identify how voters respond to media campaigns.
Implications & Impact
Understanding how the media expands voters’ access to the market of information is a key insight into how democracies are sustained in the low-income world. Depending on how access to information changes, it has clear policy implications for policy-makers working on the political empowerment of the poor. This research helps the Empowerment Lab conceive of tools to increase political empowerment. A major constraint on the effectiveness of democratic politics in developing countries is that fact that poor voters may be susceptible to private transfers, clientelism, and identity politics. This is reinforced by the fact that it is often hard for the poor to access information to evaluate the performance of elected officials.
Therefore, non‐partisan information campaigns, often administered by NGOs, may be able to politically empower the poor in low‐income democracies. If television campaigns are shown to be an effective means of targeting potential voters, it would easy and relatively inexpensive for NGOs to scale up campaigns to reach a broader audience. For civic society organizations, community leaders and other stakeholders, these research findings open a window into understanding the impact of political information services to the poor.