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Dr. Paula Pickering Investigates the Impact of SMS Messages in Ugandan Election

Paula PickeringDr. Paula Pickering, the Richard S. Perles Professor of Government, recently co-authored an article titled “Individualized Text Messages about Public Services Fail to Sway Voters: Evidence from a Field Experiment on Ugandan Elections” in the Journal of Experimental Political Science. Though it takes residents in some villages within one district in Uganda 20 times as long to access clean water as residents in other villages, many Ugandans lack information about public services that could help them hold local politicians accountable. This article’s research harnessed the power of mobile phone technology to test the impact of SMS messages about the quality of public services, such as roads, education, health services, and water access, on voting decisions in Uganda’s local elections. The authors more specifically wanted to see if “sending individualized, local, and timely information tailored” to the public service prioritized by prospective voters helped them hold local leaders accountable at the polls. Dr. Pickering and co-authors Dr. Ryan Jablonski, Dr. Mark Buntaine, and Dr. Dan Nielson concluded that this individualized information treatment did not influence voting behavior. Instead, “results point to a need for deeper engagement strategies with citizens,” including civic education, over long periods.

You can read a summary of the experiment on the Journal of Experimental Political Science’s blog and the full article on the journal’s main website.