Campaigns to Influence Voting Behavior in Uttar Pradesh, IndiaPDF version

Abhijit Banerjee
Donald Green
Jennifer Green
Rohini Pande
Rural Uttar Pradesh
1,000 villages in 27 electoral constituencies
Political Economy & Governance
Policy Issue: 
Community Participation
Policy Issue: 
Policy Issue: 
Transparency & Accountability
Policy Issue: 

Transparency is valuable to democratic governments because it can provide citizens, who have the best understanding of their own needs and preferences, with information on how officials are working to meet those needs. Citizens can use this information to reward better performing incumbents, put pressure on their legislators, promote a more efficient allocation of goods and reduce the opportunities for corruption. However, obtaining information on the responsibilities or performances of their elected officials is not easy. Possibly because of the lack of such information, politics in many developing countries, and particularly in rural areas, is often based on caste and religious ties rather than on politicians’ performance.

Context of the Evaluation: 

Uttar Pradesh (UP) is India’s most populous state, and also one of the poorest. Over 80 percent of the population of UP is Hindu by religion. Ethnic politics in UP, as in much of India, are closely linked to the Hindu caste system. Historically the caste system divided Hindu society into a hierarchically ordered set of endogamous groups. Groups that are lower in this hierarchy—which are grouped by the present political system into two broad groups called the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Other Backward Castes (OBC) and form a majority in the population—have been explicitly discriminated against in terms of access to education and other public facilities. However, in more recent years, the sense of hierarchy has been breaking down and the lower castes are more likely to see themselves as just another ethnic group often demanding restitution against past discrimination.

Both ethnic politics and political corruption are seen as important features of UP’s political landscape. In addition, a significant fraction of legislators face criminal charges, further complicating voters’ decisions.

Details of the Intervention: 

Researchers, together with local NGOs, evaluated multiple pre-election voter education campaigns (PEVACs). A first campaign (conducted with Sarathi) in Uttar Pradesh during the 2007 election examined how voters in rural areas would respond to messages urging them to not vote on caste lines but to vote for development. This campaign was conducted in villages using puppet shows and posters.

A second campaign was implemented during the Delhi 2008 election by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS), a Delhi-based NGO which promotes transparency and good governance. In this campaign, SNS produced “report cards” on each of the 70 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in Delhi, and published them in the Hindustan newspaper. This newspaper was provided (for free) to slum dwellers in a random sample of polling stations. The report card included information on a candidate’s attendance at legislative sessions, how many questions they asked, their work in committees, and how they spent their MLA development fund. The report cards also included information on a candidate’s education, criminal history, and asset holdings.

Results and Policy Lessons: 

Uttar Pradesh 2007 Campaign: In rural UP, the message that people should not simply vote along caste lines significantly changed voter behavior. First, voter turnout increased. Further, survey data collected by the Center for the Study of Developing Societies showed that the likelihood that an individual would vote for the party which represented their caste decreased from 57 percent to 52 percent in villages which received this campaign. Finally, this reduction in caste-based voting was also accompanied by a reduction in the vote share of candidates facing heinous criminal charges.

Delhi 2008 Campaign: The report card intervention had important effects. Voting patterns made it clear that the poor do have distinct preferences for representatives who focus on issues that are important for them. Exit surveys helped researchers gather information on what issues were most important to voters in different areas, and the overwhelming favorites were price rises and local development. Actual voting patterns tracked these preferences. In areas where price rises were a major issue, candidates who formed committees to monitor the price of rationed foods got a significant boost. In areas where local development was a priority, however, incumbents who spent more of their discretionary funds in slums increased their voter share.

Related Papers Citations: 

Banerjee, Abhijit, Donald Green, Jennifer Green and Rohini Pande. "Can Voters be Primed to Choose Better Legislators? Experimental Evidence from Rural India." Working Paper, MIT, 2009.