Category Archives: Governance and Accountability



D. Stromberg

The Quarterly Journal of Economics Vol. 119, No. 1 (2004) pp. 189-221

Principal Research Question and Key Result Does penetration of mass media such as radio create better informed voters that consequently receive more favourable policies? In the context of early radio expansion, this paper finds that an increase in the share of households with a radio by 1% increases spending in that area by 0.54%. 
Theory Mass media creates a distribution of informed an uninformed citizens. Informed citizens may be able to achieve better policy results. For this to occur they must vote, and they must know whether their representative has done something for them, and information from the media helps them. Thus is it more costly for politicians to neglect voters with access to political information via the media. This indicates that government spending s should be higher on groups that have access to the media, higher on groups where more people vote and voter turnout should be higher where people have access to media.The model indicates that if:

xi(uc)(zc) – βi η > ui

then the incumbent will be reelected. X is 1 if the population knows that something has been done for them. U is the utility they receive from the amount of spending Z. Beta is the ideological preference for the challenger, and Eta is the general popularity of the other candidate.

The governor knows that the voter will vote with some probability t and that the voter knows of his responsibility for the relief programme with some probability α that is an increasing function of r (radio coverage)

This generates the following propositions:

  1. If the voters cannot know if money is spent in their county or not (x = 0) then the politician has no incentive to spend there, as he will get no political credit for doing so.
  2. If Beta is distributed such that the ideological preference for the challenger is such that the incumbent cannot win, then he will not spend in that county as he will not be reelected in any case.
  3. He will allocate more funds where there are more gains to be had on the margin i.e. where turnout is higher, and there are more radios, there are more swing voters and the need for relief spending is high (where Uc is high).


Data 2500 US counties in panel from 1920-1940. This was in the middle of radio expansion, and also during the FERA programme which distributed funds to those whose income was inadequate to meet their needs. It was locally administered and local officials decided who would and would not receive the assistance. Governors were the main arbiters.

Ln(zc) = αln(rc) + βln(tc) + δ1xc1 +εic

State specific fixed effects are also included and standard errors are clustered within state. The main hypothesis is that α>0


Results Factors indicating low socio-economic status are positively correlated with spending indicating that income assistance was directed to places where utility was likely to be highest (i.e. where they needed it most).The elasticity of spending with regard to radio ownership imply that increasing radio coverage by 1% would raise spending by 0.54%, and increasing turnout by 1% increases spending by 0.57%. The most important explanatory variable is unemployment which indicates that this was not just pork barrel politics, but that spending was directed where it was needed.

If radio use increases turnout, and turnout increases spending, then this is another mechanism through which radio is working. A fixed effects PANEL regression is estimated with turnout as dependent variable, with a host of controls. The coefficient on radio coverage is 0.117 and significant at 5% levels. Thus increasing radio coverage by 10% would increase turnout by 1.2%. Since every increase of 1% of turnout increases spending by 0.57% then the effect of radio on spending through turnout is 0.12*0.57 = 0.07%.


Robustness It is recognized that there could be bias in the estimates. Specifically, if richer counties (not otherwise captured by controls) have lots of radios, but no need of assistance then results would be downward biased. But it more people seek out radio ownership and are also better at getting their preferred policies, then this would create upward bias. In recognition of this, he implements an IV strategy, which uses geological features ground conductivity and woodland cover as instruments for radio ownership (as these variables both affect the quality of the received signal). The F-stats in the first stage are all strong. Exogeneity might be questioned, as geological features especially wood cover could be correlated with poverty or exclusion and hence relief spending which would downward bias the IV estimates. However, despite these concerns the IV results are actually more positive than the OLS results. As the author therefore takes the OLS results as his baseline, the IV just indicates the direction of the bias (i.e. people seek out radios who are better at getting what they want), and as such the main results of the paper are conservative, and this lends credence to the story.Property values, employment stats, income, wages, bank deposits etc. are all controlled for as well as share of votes in last election, voter density etc.

If the model is correct there should be more spending where elections were more closely fought. This is tested by excluding noncompetitive states, and the coefficients are nearly twice as large.

The effects should be larger in rural areas, as urban dwellers had better access to other types of media. When the specification is tested on a rural subsample the coefficient increases nearly 50%

If radio use is simply proxying for some other variable relating to the use of consumer durables then we should see similar results for other durables e.g. car ownership. Indeed gasoline sales are shown to have correlations with wages, employment etc. (just as radio does), but gasoline sales per capita are not related to spending in regressions.


  • This is a cross section, with data being pooled cumulatively. Panel data would have been ideal as we could see how outcomes changed with increased radio penetration, and particularly if funds are limited, then as radio coverage becomes near universal the limited pot of FERA funds may not be significant enough for use for political capital in all counties covered by radio. This would be akin to a general equilibrium effect. Panel data would have allowed.
  • Sadly no interaction terms are used. For example an interaction term between unemployment and radio coverage could have given an estimate of the differential effect that radio coverage has in the presence of a given level of unemployment, or need. This would have been interesting to see, as the levels estimates are not as readily intelligible.


Implications Mass media can carry politically relevant information to voters who can then use this to update their voting positions. This can make politicians more accountable as people are more likely to vote.Simply extending the franchise to the poor is not enough as this paper makes clear. What is important is how informed people are, for if certain sections are not informed as to the spending policies of the government, then such spending may be cut without fear of losing votes, and redirected to areas that may have less objective need for the spending.

As the inclusion of welfare indicators made the estimates stronger it seems clear that spending was not just directed at those who were rich enough to own radios.

The bottom line is that radio improved the relative ability of rural America to attract government transfers.





R. Chattopadhyay & E. Duflo

Econometrica, Vol. 72, No. 5 (2004) pp. 1409 – 1443

A Very Short Summary 

In a Nutshell

As women are universally underrepresented in politics, at times political reservations are made for women. There is some evidence that men and women have different policy preferences. Whether these will translate into different policy outcomes is not at all obvious, as one of the implications of the median voter theorem is that the identity of the politician is not as important and the preferences of the median voter.

Using the fact that India decided that 30% of seats and chairs had to be for women in local councils (and the councils subject to the law were made so at random), the paper looks to see if there are effects of reserving seats for women, by looking at the provision of public goods within the regions that had a female head of council. The results indicate that gender does influence policy decisions and hence the identity of a decision maker does influence policy. In particular, in West Bengal, female populations complain more about drinking water and roads, and spending on those goods is differentially higher in those regions that have a female head of council. In Rajasthan, women complain more about water, and less about roads, and this too is reflected in public good spending. Thus it seems that policy outcomes are closer to what women want than what men want. Women prefer programmes that increase their opportunities (better water means less time on housework etc.).

Other results indicate that a female head increases female participation in the council meetings, and makes women more likely to complain i.e. it increases the role of women in the political process. The reason that the results are more in line with what women want is because their preferences are more closely aligned with the personal preferences of the leader.

The paper concludes that leaders under the reservation policy invest more closely with the interests of general female concern, and these results are robust to inclusion of the identity of the leader and observable community variables. This implies, that whilst democracy may be an important way to make government accountable to the citizens, the identity of the leaders is of importance. In particularly if there are cultural or other norms that tend to prevent women from being politicians, it is possible that the interests of women will be substantially overlooked, and this is not fair given that they represent 50% of the population. Thus, along with free media as advocated by Besley and Burgess, encouraging participation by women in politics may be a means of increasing the accountability of government which in turn may affect socio-economic outcomes (such as infant mortality as in the Africa paper summarized above).





M. Kudamtsu

(Forthcoming 2012)

Principal Research Question and Key Result Has the democratization wave that swept across Africa in the 1990s resulted in improved outcomes in terms of infant mortality? Using micro data, it appears that democratization reduced infant mortality by 1.2% which translates into a 12% reduction at the sample mean.
Theory This paper is theory lite. The underlying theoretical statement is that democratization increases government accountability and this improves socio-economic outcomes. Since the end of the cold war, donors have been pickier about democratic outcomes. To stay in power policy-makers either have to improve welfare of citizens, to ignore welfare and bribe certain officials. Choosing the latter is more expensive than the former. However, the benefit of staying in power depends in part on the amount of foreign aid from which policy makers can extract rent. Given that donors now base funding on welfare etc. there should have been a significant drop in the bribes necessary to ignore welfare, and welfare outcomes should have improved.


Motivation The main problem with previous studies that have sought to uncover links between democratization and economic/social variables is that democratization is often endogenous to the socio-economic outcomes that are being measured. This paper uses micro data within countries, and within families to identify the effect that democratization had on infant mortality.


Data Data are from DHS  surveys for 28 SSA countries that ask mothers about all their children and their health etc. This yielded information on over 600,000 children born to mothers both before and after democratization. Mothers that gave birth both before and after democratization allow for the identification of the democracy effect. Compared with other mothers, this subset is more likely to be uneducated, poor and living in rural areas which emphasizes the need to control for mother fixed effects.

Democracy is defined as 1) chief exec elected in multiparty elections with universal suffrage, and 2) a new chief exec has assumed office by winning multiparty elections.


Strategy Linear probability model with time/mother fixed effects, and a democracy dummy that is interacted with being in a pre-1990 (cold war ended) and a post 1990 time period dummy. The fixed effects model takes a difference in mortality rate for the same mother over time and then a difference in difference between the mothers of the same birth cohort across countries. There are controls for sex, multiple births, birth order etc.


  • Coefficient on democracy post 1990 is negative and significant when mother fixed effects are included. When mother fixed effects are replaced by country fixed effects the coefficient is similar which suggests that mothers that gave birth after democratization may be unhealthier and thus face a higher chance of infant death possibly due to the condition under which they themselves grew up in pre democracy.  Coefficients are similar when time dummies are added.
  • Democratization since 1990 has decreased infant mortality by 1.2 percentage points, equal to 12% at sample mean. Deaths within the first month of life are reduced by 0.6 percentage points about 13% at the sample mean.
  • The coefficient on democracy in the cold war is insignificant and close to zero meaning that democracy only appears to have had an effect in the post-cold war period.
  • A placebo type test shows that there was no hike or dip in child mortality until after democratization began. Other economic controls are added, GDP, rainfall, ODA , and ODA*Democracy interaction to capture effect that ODA might be more effective in the presence of democracy. The coefficients do not change partially, and the coefficient on the interaction term is not different from zero.
  • Tries to assess what type of political change is needed, and finds that multiparty politics and change in leadership (when entered separately as dependent variables) bother enter significantly but less than the democracy dummy, indicating that both are important.
  • No link is found between the degree of media freedom and the outcomes – probably better to use a measure of press penetration (possibly combined with freedom) a la Besley and Burgess.
  • Tries to identify the mechanism . When health commodity use is included (tetanus, oral rehydration etc.) the democracy dummy coefficients are almost all not significant which indicates that the mechanism through which democracy is operating is access to these health commodities.


  • No strong theoretical link is provided between democratization and infant mortality. In some sense the results may be being driven by increased accountability of the government, or in increased provision of certain health commodities etc., but it is not totally clear. It is likewise not clear why democracy should only have had an effect in the post-cold war period.
  • The definition of democracy is quite narrow and restrictive.
  • There could be some sample selection bias if mothers that were dead or otherwise ineligible for survey had different outcomes.


Implications Access to healthcare seems to be of importance more so than economic factors, as entry of the econ variables as controls does not affect the coefficients. Thus health policy should be seen as a way to target socio-economic outcomes. Democratization may be a way to improve development outcomes, although it is difficult to say why, without some theoretical understanding of the mechanisms at work.





T. Besley & R. Burgess

Quarterly Journal of Economics (2002)

Principal Research Question and Key Result Does access to mass media, in particular to newspapers, increase the responsiveness of governments to the needs of the people? In other words does mass media mitigate political agency problems by providing information to voters? In the context of India, the authors find that newspaper circulation does indeed increase the amount of government responsiveness. A 1% increase in newspaper circulation is associated with a 2.4% increase in food distribution and a 5.5% increase in calamity spending.


Theory The general idea is that media enables vulnerable population to assess the actions of incumbents in order to inform their voting decisions.


Voters are of two types 1) vulnerable – meaning vulnerable to some shock (weather etc.), and 2) non-vulnerable. Of 1) there are a) needy – those for whom in the given time period a shock actually materializes, and b) non-needy – being the vulnerable who are not actually affected by a shock.


Incumbents are of three types 1)selfish – will never help the vulnerable 2)altruistic – will always help 3) opportunistic – will help if it increases chances of reelection. In order to help the incumbent has to exert an amount of effort  which is a cost to him.

The needy always observe how much effort has been applied, but the rest of the vulnerable population learns from the media. Effort is more likely to be learned about when the effort is greater, and the marginal impact of effort will be greater when there is more media.


Those who are needy in the first time period, and those who are vulnerable realize they may be affected by a shock in the next time period. Thus when they elect the official in the election that occurs between periods they want to maximize the chances of getting of getting a politician that will help them. (Formally, as there are only two periods in this set up, the opportunistic politician will not help in time 2, as he has no more reelection concerns, thus the voters want an altruistic politician. However they cannot observe the type directly). Thus they will always vote for the incumbent that helped them in time 1 as he is definitely not selfish and may turn out to be altruistic. By backward induction, this means that effort by an opportunistic incumbent is higher when:


  1. Voters have more media access
  2. There is higher turnout
  3. There is a larger vulnerable population
  4. The incumbent has a low advantage


Non-vulnerable citizens are thought to vote along ideological lines.


This can all be summarized thus: greater media activity raises the marginal value of effort because it is more likely that reports of the effort will find its way to voters. More turnout increases the effectiveness of effort by turning it into support at the ballot box, and the same is true when the vulnerable population is larger. Effort is greater when there is more competition

Motivation In the absence of well-functioning markets, the vulnerable sections of society are often reliant upon government action for protection. Of concern then is what institutions can be developed to ensure that the government does so protect its people. This question is particularly important given that poor people are less likely to be informed about politics, and also less likely to vote, so without good institutional design they could be totally excluded from benefitting from government, and also changing government.


Data Data are from Indian states that were responsible for administering public distribution of food and calamity relief. When the local governments were given this power there was also a huge increase in the number of newspapers that were being published, including a rise in local language publications. The press was relatively free and independent.

A panel from 1958-1992 is constructed that details public food distribution and calamity relief expenditure by state. The need for intervention is proxied by food grain productions and flood damage to crops variables. Newspaper circulation proxies for media penetration.


Strategy Fixed effects model.


git = αi + βt + γsit + δ(sit)(zit) + θ(zit) + εit


Where g is the outcome in state i  in time t. Alpha is state fixed, beta is time fixed effect. S captures the need for state intervention, and the effect of the need for intervention is captured by γ. This is effectively the “activist” component of government action i.e. how much the government is likely to respond to crisis. Z is a host of political variables that may affect government responsiveness including the media penetration variables.  Θ captures the effect these variables have on relief spending. The real coefficient of interest however is  δ as this captures the true “responsiveness” of government, in other words the differential response of governments to crisis in the presence of media (etc.). This will pick up whether responses are greater given more media, turnout, competition etc.


  • The effects of newspaper circulation are large and significant. A 1% increase in newspaper circulation is associated with a 2.4% increase in food distribution and a 5.5% increase in calamity spending.
  • Turnout in the last election, a measure of political competition, and dummies that indicate when elections are near at hand are included. Turnout does not seem to affect responsiveness. Competition is only significantly associated with food distribution not calamity relief, the same goes for being in an election year.
  • The coefficient on the interaction terms food production * newspaper circ is negative, indicating that for a given level of newspaper penetration, a fall in food production elicits are greater response in terms of food distribution. Similarly the interaction on flood damage * media penetration is positive, indicating that for a given level of newspaper circulation, more flood damage increases the amount of calamity relief offered.


  • They include a number of economic variables such as population density, income per capita etc. (as wealth etc. may increase media presence and relief spending), but none of the variables enter significantly. Thus it appears that economic factors have limited influence on government responsiveness.
  • The predict values of food grain production, by regressing the food grain production variable on state/year effects and the drought/flood variable, and used the predicted value (which essentially is the amount of grain that was affected by the weather shock) in the main specification. The results show that there is no relationship between the shock value of grain production and the outcomes, but there is a relationship between the shock value * media penetration interaction, which supports the interaction interpretation offered above.
  • The split out the papers by language and find that local language papers are much more important than English papers etc. (as they are more likely to report local news presumably – and vulnerable population is more likely to read in their local language).
  • There could be some OV problem that is not accounted for, so they instrument for media penetration using ownership on the basis that private ownership is more likely to be associated with bigger distribution as state owned media is more biased and thus there is less demand for their product.
  • They interact the other political variables with the proxies for need. And find that greater turnout is associated with greater responsiveness, as is political competition, although the effects for food distribution continue to be larger than for calamity relief.


  • The results may confirm the main hypothesis of the model (that increased media increases government responsiveness. However, other than this, results are quite mixed. In particular the other hypotheses of the model are not borne out for both food distribution and calamity relief. The authors claim that this is because food distribution is a more visible form of relief (and therefore easier to cash in on politically), but we might wonder whether this is sufficient.
  • It is not clear that newspapers should be the most important form of information dissemination. For example, if literacy is an issue in Indian states, then newspaper circulation may be informing a very specific subset of the population, and this may not be the vulnerable population. As the non-vulnerable population are said to vote on ideological grounds, then they cannot affect government responsiveness to crisis, and thus newspapers cannot be the driving force behind the observed responsiveness. Some measure of TV/radio penetration could have been included to see if/how the different forms of media substitute for each other. If TV/Radio are more likely to be in areas with high newspaper circulation (due to a high demand for information), then the newspaper variable could be picking up the effects of these other forms of media. The amount of these other media will be varying over time and by state so the fixed effects model cannot completely control for them.
  • The IV strategy is not great. The instruments are pretty weak (F = c. 5.5) and exogeneity is not well argued for i.e. greater private ownership of media sector could be associated with all sorts of political variables that might also affect relief spending. However, the estimates returned are much larger than the OLS estimates, which is a comfort, as the OLS estimates can then be thought of as lower bounds (perhaps due to attenuation bias from measurement error).


Implications Whilst democracy may be important for development, it is clear from this paper that simply amending the rules of the game will do little to change outcomes without a concurrent change in complimentary institutions. This paper shows that mass media and open political institutions can affect government activism and responsiveness. This confirms what Amartya Sen stated when he said that there have been no famines in India since the advent of democracy partly because newspapers make the fact known thus forcing issues to be faced by governments. The results indicate that civil society is thus a key component to a functioning democracy.