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How Transparency Affects Distributional Politics: A Field Experiment among Elected Politicians in Malawi

Brigitte Seim, Ryan Jablonski

Publisher: AidData at the College of William and Mary and the USAID Global Development Lab

December 2016

How does transparency affect distributional politics? This paper shows that it conditions officials’ decisions to target political supporters and needy communities with development resources. It presents the results of a unique experiment in which 333 locally elected politicians in Malawi made real decisions about the allocation of NGO-provided development materials to schools in their area. Prior to making these decisions, half of the politicians were randomly assigned to be informed that letters about their allocation decisions would be sent to local development committees. The experiment demonstrated that increasing transparency in this way caused politicians to allocate more development resources to schools with greater economic need and less to politically pivotal areas.

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