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"Press 1 for Roads": Mixed Evidence on Improving Political Communication

Co-authored with Saad Gulzar and Luke Sonnet

We report results of a randomized control trial conducted in Pakistan that uses Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to augment existing face-to-face communication between politicians and voters. IVR allows politicians to script questions for voters and voters to respond on cell phones. Politicians initially exhibit willingness to engage via IVR, commit- ting to recording multiple rounds. However, the intervention unexpectedly transformed from intensive to light-touch when politicians uniformly withdrew after a single round. Drawing on three dozen open-ended interviews, we find the about-face was triggered when voters misinterpreted communication as policy commitments by politicians. Politicians lack ade- quate resources to deliver services requested by voters. That the intervention backfired for politicians highlights objective constraints on service delivery in poor countries that hinder responsiveness by even well-intentioned political representatives.

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