The impacts of money in US politics have long been debated. Building on principal-agent models, we test whether and to what degree companies’ political donations lead to their favored treatment in federal procurement. We expect the impact of donations on favoritism to vary by the strength of control by political principals over their bureaucratic agents. We compile a comprehensive dataset of published federal contracts and registered campaign contributions for 2004–15. We develop risk indices capturing tendering practices and outcomes likely characterized by favoritism. Using fixed effects regressions, matching, and regression discontinuity analyses, we find confirming evidence for our theory. A large increase in donations from $10,000 to $5m (in USD) increases favoritism risks by about 1/4th standard deviation (SD). These effects are largely partisan, with firms donating to the party that holds the presidency showing higher risk. Donations influence favoritism risks most in less independent agencies: the same donation increases the risk of favoritism by an additional 1/3rd SD in agencies least insulated from politics. Exploiting sign-off thresholds, we demonstrate that donating contractors are subject to less scrutiny by political appointees.
Young citizens vote at relatively low rates, which contributes to political parties de-prioritizing youth preferences. We analyze the effects of low-cost online interventions in encouraging young Moroccans to cast an informed vote in the 2021 elections. These interventions aim to reduce participation costs by providing information about the registration process and by highlighting the election’s stakes and the distance between respondents’ preferences and party platforms. Contrary to preregistered expectations, the interventions did not increase average turnout, yet exploratory analysis shows that the interventions designed to increase benefits did increase the turnout intention of uncertain baseline voters. Moreover, information about parties’ platforms increased support for the party closest to the respondents’ preferences, leading to better-informed voting. Results are consistent with motivated reasoning, which is surprising in a context with weak party institutionalization.
Who registers to vote? Although extensive research has examined the question of who votes, our understanding of the determinants of political participation will be limited until we know who is missing from the voter register. Studying voter registration in lower-income settings is particularly challenging due to data constraints. We link the official voter register with a complete social network census of 16 villages to analyze the correlates of voter registration in rural Uganda, examining the role of individual-level attributes and social ties. We find evidence that social ties are important for explaining registration status within and across households. Village leaders?and through them, household heads?play an important role in explaining the registration status of others in the village, suggesting a diffuse process of social influence. Socioeconomic factors such as income and education do not explain registration in this setting. Together these findings suggest an alternate theory of participation is required.
Do social networks matter for the adoption of new forms of political participation? We develop a formal model showing that the quality of communication that takes place in social networks is central to understanding whether a community will adopt forms of political participation where benefits are uncertain and where there are positive externalities associated with participation. Early adopters may exaggerate benefits, leading others to discount information about the technology's value. Thus, peer effects are likely to emerge only when informal institutions support truthful communication. We collect social network data for 16 Ugandan villages where an innovative mobile-based reporting platform was introduced. Consistent with our model, we find variation across villages in the extent of peer effects on technology adoption, as well as evidence supporting additional observable implications. Impediments to social diffusion may help explain the varied uptake of new and increasingly common political communication technologies around the world.
How does the structure of an organization affect corruption? This paper analyzes a model that views organizations as networks on which coalitions of corrupt accomplices may form. This network approach to corruption provides new insights into the problem: (i) corruption will arise in enclaves, i.e. coalitions that minimize joint exposure to witnesses, (ii) making the organization more connected may increase corruption, and (iii) corruption will involve larger coalitions under better monitoring. Simulation results also suggest that more hierarchical organizations are more corrupt than flatter organizations. I test these predictions in the lab. Results confirm the predictions and reveal a systematic deviation that has implications for why better monitoring reduces corruption: participants disproportionately fail to realize larger coalitions, which are more necessary under good monitoring. Results suggest it would be sensible to redesign public agencies to puncture the isolation of enclaves.