Politician Entry, Selection, and Performance in Sierra Leone
Elected government officials in many developing countries often do a poor job of performing their core responsibilities of providing public goods, developing legislation and regulation, and representing their constituents at the national level. Additionally, primary elections often cater to the elite and lack input from the average voter. Researchers are conducting a randomized evaluation to test the impact of an intervention that informs party executives about the qualifications and policy visions of aspirants, as well as which aspirant the local voters would most like to see selected, during the primary election stage. Researchers will explore effects on aspirant entry, representation, candidate selection, and accountability.
In developing countries, regional party strongholds often ensure that the locally dominant party’s candidate wins the general election, which can weaken competition and reduce pressure on the elected politician to be accountable. In fact, elected government officials in developing countries often do a poor job of performing their core responsibilities of providing public goods, developing legislation and regulation, and representing their constituents at the national level. This suggests that competition between aspirants of the same party during the primary election stage might be an important source of accountability pressure. The problem is that primary elections in many low-income countries are often opaque, controlled by powerful elites, and exclude the average voter whose priorities may differ from elites. Could a more transparent primary selection process, one that provides reliable information on aspirant qualifications and seeks systematic input from regular voters, lead to the election of more accountable political leaders?
Context of the evaluation
Sierra Leone’s Parliament is comprised of 132 constituencies, each of which elects one Member (MP) to represent approximately 40,000 local residents in the national government. Voting patterns tend to reflect historic relationships between ethnic groups and the two major political parties—the All People’s Congress (APC) and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
Previous research suggests that elected MPs underperform. For example, only 36 percent of discretionary public funds controlled by MPs could be verified as being spent on projects to develop their constituency. Additionally, MPs made only four public statements during more than 50 sittings of Parliament and held only one meeting with their constituents during their first year in office.1
While the APC and SLPP differ in how they select candidates to compete in the general election, they are similar in that rank-and-file party members, and the voting public more generally, does not directly participate or formally vote in either party’s primary selection process.
This results in a problem at two stages: the voters choose a party to represent them, and the party chooses a candidate to represent it. Lack of information, poorly aligned interests, and incomplete contracting can occur at both stages.
Researchers will once again partner with Search for Common Ground (SFCG), a trusted nonpartisan media presence in the country, with whom they partnered for another evaluation in 2012.
Details of the intervention
Researchers are conducting a randomized evaluation to test the impact of greater citizen voice and informative debates between aspirants during primary party conventions on the selection of more competent and accountable leaders. Of the 132 MP constituencies, 92 are randomly assigned to one of two groups.
- Comparison: Status quo;
- Party Convention and Voter Report: Aspiring candidates will present their qualifications and platforms as well as answer questions during constituency-level party conventions. Researchers will ask voters which aspirant they would like the party to select to run in the general election and share this information with party leadership.
The conventions feature town-hall debates that are broadcast on local radio. SFCG will provide training and moderate debates between the aspirants.
Researchers will also conduct detailed interviews to gather information about the number and characteristics of aspirants and selected candidates.
Results and policy lessons
Project ongoing, results forthcoming
Casey, Katherine, Abou Bakarr Kamara, and Niccoló Meriggi. "An Experiment in Candidate Selection."Working Paper, August 2019.
Bidwell, Kelly, Katherine Casey, and Rachel Glennerster. "Debates: Voting and Expenditure Responses to Political Communication." Stanford GSB Working Paper No. 3066, May 2018.