Skip to main content

Information Dissemination, Competitive Pressure, and Politician Performance between Elections: A Field Experiment in Uganda


Politicians shirk when their performance is obscure to constituents. We theorize that when politician performance information is disseminated early in the electoral term, politicians will subsequently improve their performance in anticipation of changes in citizens’ evaluative criteria and possible challenger entry in the next election. However, politicians may only respond in constituencies where opposition has previously mounted. We test these predictions in partnership with a Ugandan civil society organization in a multiyear field experiment conducted in 20 district governments between the 2011 and 2016 elections. While the organization published yearly job duty performance scorecards for all incumbents, it disseminated the scorecards to constituents for randomly selected politicians. These dissemination efforts induced politicians to improve performance across a range of measures, but only in competitive constituencies. Service delivery was unaffected. We conclude that, conditional on electoral pressure, transparency can improve politicians’ performance between elections but not outcomes outside of their control.

Corresponding author
Guy Grossman is an Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania, 208 S. 37th Street Room 217, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215 (
Kristin Michelitch is an Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt University, Commons Center PMB 0505, 230 Appleton Place, Nashville, TN 37203-5721 (
Hide All

We thank Areum Han, Ana Garcia Hernandez, Christine Goldrick, Lindsay Van Landeghem, Simon Robertson, Maximilian Seunik, and Austin Walker for invaluable research assistance. This project would not have been possible without our ACODE team partners, especially Godber Tumushabe, Arthur Bainomugisha, Eugene Ssemakula, Lillian Tamale, Phoebe Atakunda, Naomi Kabarungi, and Naomi Asimo. We are grateful to the Democratic Governance Facility and the Andrew Carnegie Foundation for its generous funding. This study benefited tremendously from presenting an early design memo at the EGAP-7 meeting at the University of British Columbia. We thank the following for detailed comments: Josh Clinton, Jonathan Hiskey, Dave Lewis, Pia Raffler, Alan Wiseman, and participants at the Yale Leitner Seminar, Princeton Comparative Politics Colloquia, NYU Abu Dhabi Speaker Seminar, Vanderbilt CSDI Seminar, Southern Political Science Association Africa Political Economy Workshop, University of Minnesota Comparative Politics Series, Washington University’s Workshop on Elite Accountability, Watson Institute’s Development and Governance Seminar, Colby College, University of Illinois, and the EGAP-17 meeting at Yale University.

Hide All
Adida, Claire, Gottlieb, Jessica, Kramon, Eric, and McClendon, Gwyneth. 2016. “Breaking the Clientelistic Voting Equilibrium: The Joint Importance of Salience and Coordination.” Unpublished manuscript.
Anderson, Michael L. 2008. “Multiple Inference and Gender Differences in the Effects of Early Intervention: A Reevaluation of the Abecedarian, Perry Preschool, and Early Training Projects.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 103 (484): 1481–95.
Ashworth, Scott. 2012. “Electoral Accountability: Recent Theoretical and Empirical Work.” Annual Review of Political Science 15: 183201.
Ashworth, Scott, and Shotts, Kenneth W.. 2015. “Challengers and Electoral Accountability.” Unpublished manuscript.
Beazer, Quintin H. 2015. “Political Centralization and Economic Performance: Evidence from Russia.” The Journal of Politics 77 (1): 128–45.
Berry, Christopher R., and Howell, William G.. 2007. “Accountability and Local Elections: Rethinking Retrospective Voting.” Journal of Politics 69 (3): 844–58.
Besley, Timothy, and Burgess, Robin. 2002. “The Political Economy of Government Responsiveness: Theory and Evidence from India.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 117 (4): 1415–51.
Besley, Timothy, Persson, Torsten, and Sturm, Daniel M.. 2010. “Political Competition, Policy and Growth: Theory and Evidence from the US.” The Review of Economic Studies 77 (4): 1329–52.
Bidwell, Kelly, Casey, Katherine, and Glennerster, Rachel. 2017. “Debates: Voting and Expenditure Responses to Political Communication.” Unpublished manuscript.
Boas, Taylor C., and Hidalgo, F. Daniel. 2011. “Controlling the Airwaves: Incumbency Advantage and Community Radio in Brazil.” American Journal of Political Science 55 (4): 869–85.
Bueno De Mesquita, Ethan. 2007. “Politics and the Suboptimal Provision of Counterterror.” International Organization 61 (01): 936.
Butler, Daniel M., and Broockman, David E.. 2011. “Do Politicians Racially Discriminate Against Constituents? A Field Experiment on State Legislators.” American Journal of Political Science 55 (3): 463–77.
Cameron, A. Colin, Gelbach, Jonah B., and Miller, Douglas L.. 2008. “Bootstrap-based Improvements for Inference with Clustered Errors.” The Review of Economics and Statistics 90 (3): 414–27.
Carlson, Elizabeth. 2015. ”Ethnic Voting and Accountability in Africa: A Choice Experiment in Uganda.” World Politics 67 (2): 353–85.
Chong, Alberto, Ana, L., Karlan, Dean, and Wantchekon, Leonard. 2015. “Does Corruption Information Inspire the Fight or Quash the Hope? A Field Experiment in Mexico on Voter Turnout, Choice, and Party Identification.” The Journal of Politics 77 (1): 5571.
Chwe, Michael Suk-Young. 2013. Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Cleary, Matthew R. 2007. “Electoral Competition, Participation, and Government Responsiveness in Mexico.” American Journal of Political Science 51 (2): 283–99.
Collier, Paul, and Vicente, Pedro C.. 2012. “Violence, Bribery, and Fraud: the Political Economy of Elections in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Public Choice 153 (1–2): 117–47.
Cox, Gary W., and Katz, Jonathan N.. 1996. “Why Did the Incumbency Advantage in U.S. House Elections Grow?American Journal of Political Science 40 (2): 478–97.
Cruz, Cesi, Keefer, Philip, and Labonne, Julien. 2017. “Incumbent Advantage, Voter Information and Vote Buying.” Unpublished manuscript.
Diamond, Larry Jay. 1994. “Toward Democratic Consolidation.” Journal of Democracy 5 (3): 4–17.
Dunning, Thad, Grossman, Guy, Humphreys, Macartan, Hyde, Susan D., and McIntosh, Craig. 2018. Information and Political Accountability: A New Method for Cumulative Learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Fearon, James D. 1999. “Electoral Accountability and the Control of Politicians: Selecting Good Types versus Sanctioning Poor Performance.” In Democracy, Accountability and Representation, eds. Przeworski, Adam, Stokes, Susan C. and Manin, Bernard. Cambrige, MA: Cambrige University Press, 5597.
Fox, Justin, and Shotts, Kenneth W.. 2009. “Delegates or Trustees? A Theory of Political Accountability.” The Journal of Politics 71 (4): 1225–37.
Golden, Miriam, and Min, Brian. 2013. “Distributive Politics around the World.” Annual Review of Political Science 16, 7399.
Gordon, Sanford C., and Huber, Gregory. 2007. “The Effect of Electoral Competitiveness on Incumbent Behavior.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 2 (2): 107–38.
Gordon, Sanford C., Huber, Gregory A., and Landa, Dimitri. 2007. “Challenger Entry and Voter Learning.” American Political Science Review 101 (2): 303–20.
Gottlieb, Jessica. 2016. “Greater Expectations: A Field Experiment to Improve Accountability in Mali.” American Journal of Political Science 60 (1): 143–57.
Green, Elliott D. 2010. “Patronage, District Creation, and Reform in Uganda.” Studies in Comparative International Development 45 (1): 83103.
Grimmer, Justin. 2013. Representational Style in Congress: What Legislators Say and Why It Matters. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Grossman, Guy, and Hanlon, W. Walker. 2014. “Do Better Monitoring Institutions Increase Leadership Quality in Community Organizations? Evidence from Uganda.” American Journal of Political Science 58 (3): 669–86.
Grossman, Guy, and Lewis, Janet I.. 2014. “Administrative Unit Proliferation.” American Political Science Review 108 (1): 196217.
Harding, Robin. 2015. “Attribution and Accountability: Voting for Roads in Ghana.” World Politics 67 (4): 656–89.
Healy, Andrew, and Lenz, Gabriel S.. 2014. “Substituting the End for the Whole: Why Voters Respond Primarily to the Election-Year Economy.” American Journal of Political Science 58 (1): 3147.
Healy, Andrew, and Malhotra, Neil. 2013. “Retrospective Voting Reconsidered.” Annual Review of Political Science 16; 285306.
Hicken, Allen. 2011. “Clientelism.” Annual Review of Political Science 14: 289310.
Huber, Gregory A., Hill, Seth J., and Lenz, Gabriel S.. 2012. “Sources of Bias in Retrospective Decision Making: Experimental Evidence on Voters’ Limitations in Controlling Incumbents.” American Political Science Review 106 (4): 720–41.
Humphreys, Macartan, and Weinstein, Jeremy M.. 2012. “Policing Politicians: Citizen Empowerment and Political Accountability in Uganda.” Unpublished manuscript.
Kitschelt, Herbert, and Wilkinson, Steven I.. 2007. Patrons, Clients and Policies: Patterns of Democratic Accountability and Political Competition. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kling, Jeffrey R., Liebman, Jeffrey B., and Katz, Lawrence F.. 2007. Experimental Analysis of Neighborhood Effects. Econometrica 75 (1): 83119.
Kosack, Stephen, and Fung, Archon. 2014. “Does Transparency Improve Governance?Annual Review of Political Science 17, 6587.
Kramon, Eric. 2016. “Electoral Handouts as Information: Explaining Unmonitored Vote Buying.” World Politics 68 (3): 454– 98.
Lieberman, Evan S., Posner, Daniel N., and Tsai, Lily L.. 2014. “Does Information Lead to More Active Citizenship? Evidence from an Education Intervention in Rural Kenya.” World Development 60: 6983.
Lindberg, Staffan. 2010. “What Accountability Pressures Do MPs in Africa Face and How Do They Respond? Evidence from Ghana.” Journal of Modern African Studies 48 (1): 117–42.
Lindberg, Staffan I. 2013. “Mapping Accountability: Core Concept and Subtypes.” International Review of Administrative Sciences 79 (2): 202–26.
Michelitch, Kristin, and Utych, Stephen. Forthcoming. “Electoral Cycle Fluctuations in Partisanship Salience: Global Evidence from 86 Countries.” Journal of Politics.
Mwenda, Andrew M., and Tangri, Roger. 2005. “Patronage Politics, Donor Reforms, and Regime Consolidation in Uganda. African Affairs 104 (416): 449–67.
Nsibambi, Apolo. 1998. Decentralization and Civil Society in Uganda: The Quest for Good Governance. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Pub Limited.
Ochieng’ Opalo, Kennedy. 2012. “African Elections: Two Divergent Trends.” Journal of Democracy 23 (3): 8093.
Prat, Andrea. 2005. “The Wrong Kind of Transparency.” American Economic Review 95 (2): 862–77.
Przeworski, Adam. 2015. “Acquiring the Habit of Changing Governments through Elections.” Comparative Political Studies 48 (1): 101–29.
Przeworski, Adam, Stokes, Susan C., and Manin, Bernard. 1999. Democracy, Accountability, and Representation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Raffler, Pia. 2017. “Eyes On, Hands Off: Political Oversight, Local Bureaucracy, and Public Service Provision.” Presented at the American Political Science Annual Conference. San Francisco, August 31–September 3, 2017
Redlawsk, David P., Civettini, Andrew J. W., and Emmerson, Karen M.. 2010. “The Affective Tipping Point: Do Motivated Reasoners Ever ‘Get It”?” Political Psychology 31 (4): 563–93.
Snyder, James M., and Strömberg, David. 2010. “Press Coverage and Political Accountability.” Journal of Political Economy 118 (2): 355408.
Solé-Ollé, Albert, and Viladecans-Marsal, Elisabet. 2012. “Lobbying, Political Competition, and Local Land Supply: Recent Evidence from Spain.” Journal of Public Economics 96 (1): 10–9.
Stokes, Susan C., Dunning, Thad, Nazareno, Marcelo, and Brusco, Valeria. 2013. Brokers, Voters, and Clientelism: The Puzzle of Distributive Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Svolik, Milan W. 2013. “Learning to Love Democracy: Electoral Accountability and the Success of Democracy.” American Journal of Political Science 57 (3): 685702.
Tangri, Roger, and Mwenda, Andrew. 2001. “Corruption and Cronyism in Uganda’s Privatization in the 1990s.” African Affairs 100 (398): 117–33.
Tavits, Margit. 2007. “Principle vs. Pragmatism: Policy Shifts and Political Competition.” American Journal of Political Science 51 (1): 151–65.
Tripp, Aili Mari. 2010. Museveni’s Uganda: Paradoxes of Power in a Hybrid Regime. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Tsai, Lily L. 2007. “Solidary Groups, Informal Accountability, and Local Public Goods Provision in Rural China.” American Political Science Review 101 (2): 355–72.
Volden, Craig, and Wiseman, Alan E.. 2014. Legislative Effectiveness in the United States Congress: The Lawmakers. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Weghorst, Keith. 2015. Losing the Battle, Winning the War: Legislative Candidacy in Electoral Authoritarian Regimes. Ph.D. thesis, University of Florida.
Weitz-Shapiro, Rebecca. 2012. “What Wins Votes: Why Some Politicians Opt out of Clientelism.” American Journal of Political Science 56 (3): 568–83.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Grossman and Michelitch Dataset

Supplementary materials

Grossman and Michelitch supplementary material
Grossman and Michelitch supplementary material 1

 PDF (14.8 MB)
14.8 MB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 16
Total number of PDF views: 153 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1007 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 1st February 2018 - 21st April 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.