Working Papers

Global Problems, Local Solutions: Preferences for Domestic Action Over International Transfers in Global Climate Policy (With Lauren Prather) [PDF]

Abstract — Cost-effective and equitable international climate policy requires the transfer of resources from developed to developing countries. In two behavioral experiments, we demonstrate that American subjects overwhelmingly favor funding climate change mitigation at home rather than overseas. For public spending, Americans write letters to elected officials in support of funding for domestic programs at a significantly higher rate than for international programs. This effect is mirrored for private donations. Individuals are substantially more likely to donate their own money to a local program rather than an otherwise similar program abroad. We attempt to overcome this baseline preference by randomly informing some subjects that programs located abroad are more cost-effective than programs located in the United States. Only in the case of private donations is home preference ever mitigated. On the other hand, home preference is exacerbated when the co-benefits of mitigation programs are highlighted. To our knowledge, these findings are the first to show that the implementation of climate policy that relies on international transfers rather than domestic action faces significant political constraints. Importantly, home preference crosses party lines indicating that it is a deep-seeded, affective preference, rather than a product of partisan divisions. Previous research has failed to identify this important obstacle to international transfers, even though transfers are one of the dominant features of recent international agreements. In the future, researchers and policymakers alike will need to account for home preference when advocating global solutions for global problems such as climate change, extreme poverty, and health crises.

Electoral Accountability in Inhibited Information Environments: Disclosing Budget Performance by Mobile Phone in Uganda (With Sarah Bush, Ryan Jablonski, Daniel Nielson, and Paula Pickering) [PDF]

Abstract — Politicians often enjoy information advantages over voters, allowing them to undermine accountability. New information technologies, including mobile text-messaging, offer advantages to civil society and citizens in gaining access to information that elected politicians can counter only at significant cost. Demonstrating the implications for electoral accountability, we report results from a large (n=16,083) randomized control trial conducted during the 2016 Ugandan district elections. We compiled information on irregularities in district budgets and shared it with citizens privately via mobile text-messages prior to the elections. Messages reporting greater budget discrepancies than expected decreased support for incumbent district councillors and disclosures of fewer budget discrepancies than expected increased support for incumbent councillors. The messages had no discernable effects on support for district chairs, perhaps due to a more saturated information environment. Our results suggest that open budget data, disseminated privately, can enhance local electoral accountability in competitive authoritarian systems.

Escaping the Valley of DisengagementTwo Field Experiments on Motivating Citizens to Monitor Public Goods (With Jacob Skaggs and Daniel Nielson). [PDF]

Abstract — Governments face problems serving the public interest when they do not have good information about how well the demands of citizens are met. Citizens experience deficient or absent public services, but they do not have incentives to provide monitoring when they do not expect governments to be responsive to their concerns. Over time, this reinforcing cycle creates what we term the valley of disengagement. We investigate how to activate and sustain collaborative governance given the challenges posed by this vicious cycle. In two field experiments implemented in Kampala, Uganda, we recruited citizens to report on solid waste services to a municipal government. We find that community nominations of reporters and community announcements about reporters’ activity do not increase citizen monitoring. However, responsiveness to reporters by government significantly boosts engagement over several months, highlighting the critical role of timely and targeted responsiveness by governments for sustaining collaborative governance.

Can Information Outreach Increase Participation in Community-Driven Development? A Field Experiment near Bwindi National Park, Uganda (With Brigham Daniels and Colleen Devlin). [PDF]

Abstract — Decentralization and community-driven development intend to bring public decisions closer to the people, yet elites often capture local institutions. One way that local elites capture community-driven development is to control information such that citizens do not know about their opportunities to shape group decisions. We investigate whether sending citizens targeted and timely information about when and how they can participate in the planning of community-driven development projects increases knowledge, participation, and satisfaction with local institutions. We implemented a pre-registered randomized field experiment in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority that involved sending residents in randomly selected villages near Bwindi National Park approximately 60 messages by mobile phone over eight months about how a park-sponsored Revenue Sharing program worked and how and when they could participate. We do not find evidence that the information increased perceived knowledge, participation, perceived efficacy, or satisfaction with local institutions, and instead find some indications of a backfire effect, except when we reached many people in a community. We conclude that informational interventions will need to address the deeper institutional roots of exclusion and elite capture to be effective.

Transparency and Local Accountability: A National-Scale Field Experiment in China on the Disclosure of Information about Pollution (With Sarah Anderson, Mengdi Liu, and Bing Zhang) [request]

Abstract — Central governments face compliance problems when they rely on local governments to implement policy. In authoritarian political systems, these challenges are pronounced because local governments do not face direct accountability from citizens at the polls. We designed and implemented a national-scale field experiment in China to test whether the public dissemination of performance ratings of municipal governments by non-state actors caused municipal governments to release more information about the management of pollution to the public as mandated. We find significant and positive treatment effects on the release of information to the public about the management of pollution after only one year. These results reveal important roles that non-state actors can play in enhancing accountability of local governments in authoritarian political systems.

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