The politics of public service reform: Experimental evidence from Liberia

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This paper provides experimental evidence on the electoral effect of a large education reform in a developing democracy. Despite significantly improving school quality, the policy reduced the incumbent party’s presidential vote share by 3 percentage points (10%). This does not imply that voters fundamentally oppose service improvements: household surveys showed strong support for the policy, and variation in school-pair-level treatment effects shows that the more the policy raised test scores, the more it increased incumbent vote share. Instead, the negative average electoral effect was driven by opposition from teachers. The policy reduced teachers’ job satisfaction, their support for the incumbent government, and their political engagement. The more the policy reduced teacher political engagement, the more it reduced incumbent vote share.
Counterfactual simulations suggest that relatively small improvements in effectiveness and/or teacher engagement could have made the policy a net vote winner. This paper empirically demonstrates the importance of political feasibility in the design of public service reforms.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCESifo Working Papers
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023

Publication series

NameCESifo Working Papers
PublisherMunich Society for the Promotion of Economic Research
ISSN (Electronic)2364-1428


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