'Improving Political Communication: Results from a Pilot Field Experiment in Pakistan'

Abstract: Elections are a blunt tool for accountability. Can enhanced politician-voter communication in the periods between elections improve democratic outcomes? We partner with a politician in Pakistan and design an experiment with Interactive Voice Response (IVR) —- a technology that enables him to robocall a large number of voters in his own voice to ask them questions and receive feedback. We randomize whether respondents receive a call soliciting preferences about upcoming decisions the politician must make. A follow-up call randomizes how responsive the politician is to voters’ preferences. Results show that respondents receiving information-seeking calls from the MPA experience improved perceptions of government competence and place greater emphasis on incumbent performance in their electoral calculus. Point estimates indicate a positive but imprecisely estimated effect of the intervention on respondents’ perceptions of the incumbent. We also find evidence that the above effects are driven largely by contact that specifically addresses the demands of constituents rather than by the mere fact of increased communication with the MPA, and that some types of content are more valued than others by voters. The main takeaway of the pre-test and pilot is that politician communication using IVR can encourage voters to engage more effectively with the democratic process in some ways.