Insights into female voting behaviour in rural Pakistan

Chris Blattman flags a new World Bank paper by Ghazala Mansuri and Xavier Gine. The authors find that information dissemination (of the nature of pre-election voting awareness camapigns) increased voting among women by about 12% on average. Alongside this enhanced political participation, women also displayed greater degrees of independent decision-making when it came to voting for their chosen candidates. In addition, the study finds significant levels of information spill-overs, making such interventions scale-able. The authors report these findings by –

conducting a field experiment to assess the impact of information on female turnout and independence of candidate choice. The setting for the experiment is rural Pakistan where women still face significant barriers to effective political participation, despite legislative reforms aimed at enhancing female participation in public life (Zia and Bari, 1999).

Kudos to the researchers for choosing rural Pakistan, and not some part of say, rural India (far easier from a logistics and security point of view). The intervention and the research methods make for great reading. An interesting folllow-up would be to go back to these communities and present these results. It would be great to get their thoughts on these findings. Also, a couple of questions come to mind –
  1. In the light of these findings, would political parties be inclined to step-up their voter outreach campaigns? – In this study, the vote-share of the losing political party seems to have gone up as a result of the information campaign intervention.
  2. Do voters (men and women) truly understand that ‘every vote counts’? Or do they go out to vote only to reward, punish or under other patron-client relationships? – Is linked to the point above – if voters didn’t think that their vote counted, why would they have gone out and voted for the party that was almost sure to lose anywhichway?

Treated women also voted in larger numbers for PML-F which was seen as less likely to win, thereby changing the vote share of the losing party in sample polling stations. This is perhaps even more remarkable given that the field teams were mostly PPPP supporters. This suggests that the intervention empowered women and thus may have modified the rational calculus of voting (Downs, 1957) by including a utility gain from the mere act of voting (Riker and Ordeshook, 1968)


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