Information Technology and Political Engagement: Mixed Evidence from Uganda

Grossman, G, Humphreys M, Sacramone-Lutz G.  2016.  Information Technology and Political Engagement: Mixed Evidence from Uganda.


This study integrates three related field experiments to learn about how Information Communications Technology (ICT) innovations can affect who gets to communicate with politicians. We implemented a nationwide experiment in Uganda following a smaller-scale framed field experiment that showed that ICTs can lead to significant ``flattening'': a greater share of marginalized populations used SMS-based communication compared to existing political communication channels. We find no evidence for such flattening from the national experiment, however. Instead patterns of participation look like politics as usual: participation rates are low and marginalized populations engage at especially low rates. We examine possible reasons for these differences, and then present the design and analysis of a third mechanism experiment that helps parse rival explanations for these divergent patterns. The evidence suggests that even when citizens have issues they want to raise, technological fixes to communication deficits can be easily undercut by structural weaknesses in political systems.

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