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Electoral Competition and Public Goods Distribution: Evidence from Botswana

Thu, August 30, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Sheraton, Back Bay D


How do variations in governance structures affect the distribution of development resources? Do African governments use public resources to help win votes? And if so, how? Theories of distributive politics have offered a variety of expectations as to who should be targeted in the distribution of government resources, with different arguments variously suggesting a greater focus on either core or swing voters, or co-ethnics. In addition, recent arguments concerning the impact of multiparty politics in Africa have suggested that electoral competition should lead to a rural bias in public policy and the provision of public goods and services. Combining these insights generates interesting hypotheses with regards to the allocation of government resources in predominantly rural democracies. We evaluate these hypotheses using unique historical data on local public goods and election results in Botswana.
To this end, we construct an original geo-coded panel dataset to investigate the distribution of local public goods, including education, health, and security services. The data contain detailed village level information on the provision of these services throughout Botswana, covering the period from 1970 to 1990. This information comes from rare historical data, which has been painstakingly digitized and geo-referenced to maps of historical electoral districts. Combined with results from local elections throughout this time period, the dataset provides a unique opportunity to investigate how governments in African countries with rural majorities target the allocation of public resources in response to electoral incentives.
This historical census data from Botswana has two important benefits. First, information on the provision of a wide array of development goods allows us to investigate the possibility that different goods are targeted towards different regions or types of voters. This alleviates the concern that any conclusions are a function of, and only applicable to, the particular goods under investigation. Second, Botswana is an unusual case of a country in Africa in which elections have been held consistently since independence in the late 1960s. The transition to democracy in the 1990s came at the same time as increased pressure from donors to target development resources in particular ways, and it is difficult to separate the two causes of changing patterns of distribution. By using this rare historical data from Botswana, the project is able to separate the impact of electoral competition from the changed donor pressures of the 1990s.