Establishing responsive linkages between politicians and voters in Pakistan

This project provides politicians in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province useful tools to gather actionable information about voter preferences over public goods and, reciprocally, provides voters high-value information about upcoming policy decisions.

Elections are blunt instruments for ensuring responsiveness by public officials to voter preferences. At best, voters may be able to “throw the rascals out” if elected officials seem not to have worked to produce policy outcomes that satisfy voters. Especially in less developed countries, where political parties are often weak and oversight of politicians may be poor, electoral democracy offers politicians little guidance in improving policy responsiveness even where politicians may wish to do so. The project is aimed at establishing potentially durable feedback linkages between voters and elected representatives that gives politicians more information about voter preferences, thereby allowing them to be more responsive. Improved responsiveness, in turn, potentially increases the likelihood of reelection for politicians who operate in a political environment that is highly unpredictable and characterized by disadvantages for the incumbent party.

The project also aims to overcome problems that have come up in previous attempts, especially those that rely on SMS, to improve the flow of information between constituents and politicians. By using phone calls instead of SMS messages, we avoid difficulties with literacy and immediately query constituents for their preferences instead of relying upon them to take the initiative to respond with a text message. Furthermore, having a standardized message allows for the data to be aggregated in a way that is actionable for politicians, as opposed to a small number of messages sent by constituents about very different issues.

We are partnering with one member of the KP provincial assembly to pilot the idea. We will be sending out pre-recorded cell phone messages to voters about short-term public goods decisions that will affect their communities. Voters will receive a message recorded either by their provincial member of the legislative assembly or by the district officer responsible for their area. The message is potentially followed by the opportunity for the voter to express preferences over the upcoming decisions, using the numbers on their cell phone, via Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Information about voter preferences is delivered to the politician and to the district officer, and a second message delivered by cell phone to voters once the allocation decisions have been made.