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Is Information Power? Using Mobile Phones and Free Newspapers during an Election in Mozambique - Working Paper 328

Jenny Aker , Paul Collier and Pedro C. Vicente
June 19, 2013
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Abstract

Incumbent politicians in African countries have been cementing their positions in recent elections. That was the case of the Mozambican election of 2009, where the ruling party secured 75 percent of the vote, amid low participation and clear challenges of political accountability. We conducted a field experiment implemented nationwide based on three interventions providing information to voters and calling for their participation in the elections: an SMS civic education campaign centered on the elections, an SMS hotline to which citizens were able to report electoral misconduct, and the distribution of a free newspaper door-to-door focusing on voter education. We measure the effects of these treatments by looking at official electoral results, a behavioral measure of political participation, reports by electoral observers, and surveys. We find a clear positive effect of all treatments on voter turnout, close to five percentage points. Some treatments benefitted incumbents. We also have evidence that the distribution of the free newspaper led to more accountability-based participation and to a decrease in the incidence of electoral problems. All treatments increased information but caused diverse effects on perceptions about politics.

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