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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) technology 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. The technology modifies the initiator, scope, content, scale, personalism, and frequency of communication. Both politicians and voters initially exhibit willingness to engage via IVR. However, IVR does not change downstream voter views about politicians or electoral behavior, nor do politicians leverage the opportunity politically. We interpret the null results as well as the reluctance of politicians to engage repeatedly with voters via IVR as functions of the underlying constraints faced by politicians, who lack the means to satisfy voter demands. Descriptive data also suggest that failures of responsiveness may occur for reasons other than clientelism or elite capture.

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