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Brief 38: Diminishing the Effectiveness of Vote-Buying Through Voter Education

“Vote-buying” refers to the distribution of cash or other material benefits by candidates before elections to persuade recipients to vote for them. Green and Vasudevan designed and evaluated a radio campaign during the 2014 Indian general election to educate voters about vote-buying. First, they hired an agency to create radio advertisements to discourage people from voting for candidates/parties that engage in vote-buying. Second, they ran these advertisements on 30 radio stations during 2014 general elections. Third, they asked local journalists which parties were bribing voters in different areas. Fourth, they measured how those advertisements affected both turnout rates at the assembly constituency (AC) level and the vote-share of vote-buying parties. The authors found that their advertisements reduced the vote-share of the vote-buying parties by about four percentage points, but had small and statistically insignificant effects on voter turnout.

Category: Elections

Tags: voting, Elections, vote-buying, India, corruption, candidates, political parties

Date of Publication: Wednesday, January 27, 2016

EGAP Researcher: Donald Green

Other Authors: Srinivasan Vasudevan

Partners: Photo credit Adam Cohn, available via Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0

Geographical Region: Asia

Research Question: Are radio voter education campaigns effective in discouraging voters from voting for parties/candidates that engage in vote-buying?

Preparer: Seth Ariel Green



India is the world's largest democracy, with 814 million voters. In 2014, The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition won a decisive victory over the long-dominant Indian National Congress-led (INC) coalition. There are six nationally recognized parties, 49 others at the state level, and more than 1700 smaller parties.

Many media observers have alleged widespread vote-buying in India. Police working with the Election Commission of India confiscated around $115 million (PPP)  in cash, seized 30 million liters of liquor, and arrested more than two million people in connection with election-related violations.

India is divided into Parliamentary Constituencies (PCs), which are further subdivided into assembly constituencies (AC). ACs each have between 150,000 and 250,000 registered voters.

All India Radio (AIR) is the national broadcaster of India. It reaches 95% of the country and 99% of the population. There are 194 AIR stations; each station typically covers about 15 ACs. 

Research Design:

In the lead-up to the 2014 elections, Green and Vasudevan hired an Indian agency to script and record advertisements to discourage voting for vote-buying parties. The advertisements were skits in which actors discussed why vote-buying politicians were untrustworthy and unlikely to make good on their promises. The 60-second spots were recorded in Hindi and four regional languages (Kannada, Marathi, Oriya, and Telugu). The authors chose 60 AIR stations covering 665 ACs in ten states. Stations were chosen if they broadcast in the most commonly spoken languages, had affordable advertising rates, and if their broadcasts did not have overlap with many other stations. The authors randomly selected 30 stations to broadcast advertisements. The messages were broadcast 48 times over the three days leading up to polling, including the day of elections, in areas covered by radio stations.

A few days before elections, the researchers polled more than 400 journalists about which parties/candidates were trying to buy votes in nearby areas. The authors coded every party that was reported by at least one journalist as being engaged in vote-buying. Consequently, some parties were marked as vote-buying in some areas and not in others.

The two outcomes measured were 1) percentage of voters that voted for a vote-buying party and 2) rate of voter turnout.
The radio advertisements had a strong, negative effect on the vote-share of vote-buying parties. In treated areas, vote-buying parties received an average of four percentage points fewer votes, which the authors call “substantively quite large.” The effect on the turnout rate hovered around -0.5 percentage points but was not statistically significant.
Policy Implications:

Based on the above results, the authors outline the following policy implications:

  • Radio advertisements are a cost-effective way of educating voters in India, particularly in rural areas.
  • Educating voters about the instrumental nature of vote-buying and the negative consequences of electing vote-buyers shifts large number of votes away from vote-buying parties.