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Brief 65: Effects of A Campaign Against Vote Buying in Uganda

The authors investigate the effects of a massive anti-vote buying campaign in Uganda. They find no evidence that the intervention decreased the offering of gifts by candidates in exchange for votes. However, the intervention did increase vote shares for challenger candidates.

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Category: Elections

Tags: voting, Uganda, vote buying

Date of Publication: Monday, September 16, 2019

EGAP Researcher: Chris Blattman, Horacio Larreguy

Other Authors: Benjamin Marx, Otis Reid

Partners: National Democratic Institute, ACFIM

Geographical Region: Africa

Research Question:

What are the effects of anti-vote buying campaigns?

Preparer: Nicholas Kuipers



Vote buying is believed to undermine democratic legitimacy by corrupting key channels of political accountability. Worryingly, the practice of vote buying is endemic across the developing world. Nearly 85% of voters in Uganda, for instance, report that politicians often or always give gifts during political campaigns. Policymakers and development practitioners have thus dedicated considerable resources to eradicating the practice of vote buying. Yet we know little about whether these interventions are effective at achieving their stated goals. Looking at the 2016 Uganda national elections, the authors estimate the effects of a large-scale anti-vote buying campaign across a range of outcomes, with rate of vote buying and electoral choice chief among them.

Research Design:

The authors estimate the effects of an anti-vote buying campaign carried out in the five weeks prior to the election by the Alliance for Election Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM)—a coalition of Ugandan civil society organizations. The anti-vote buying intervention included five elements: (1) a community visit from an NGO, (2) a leaflet drop, (3) a community meeting, (4) targeted robocalls, and (5) publicly displayed posters. The experiment took place in 918 parishes, which included 2,796 surveyed villages. The authors randomly assigned roughly two-thirds of parishes to receive the intervention (N=535), while the other one-third of parishes were held as a pure control (N=383). Among treated parishes, the authors further randomly varied the intensity of treatment saturation—e.g., the percentage of villages within a parish that received the intervention. The authors collect electoral outcome data from polling stations, as well as survey data from 28,454 citizens after the election. They examine four families of outcomes: (1) the reported incidence of vote buying, (2) electoral outcomes, (3) the perceptions of norms around vote buying, and (4) reported political campaign activities.


The authors find that the intervention had no effect on overall reported levels of vote buying. However, they find that the intervention had a sizable and positive effect on electoral support for challenger candidates, as measured in both survey data and electoral administrative data. Consistent with this finding, but contrary to expectations, they also report that the intervention induced challenger candidates to engage in vote buying at higher rates. Next, the authors turn to the effects of the intervention on underlying attitudes and social norms. The intervention increased voters’ perceived likelihood of ostracization and social punishment in the event that they accepted cash for their votes. But there is also suggestive evidence that it increased the likelihood of voters reporting that they accepted cash from one candidate, but voted for a different one.

Policy Implications:

The authors interpret their results as implying that the intervention levelled the electoral playing field by undercutting the social acceptability of vote buying, which, in turn, weakened the norm of reciprocity—e.g., voters’ perception of receiving cash as a binding contract. This shift in attitudes empowered challenger candidates, who ultimately received higher vote shares. This is an important insight for international agencies seeking to decrease the incidence of vote buying. Specifically, this finding identifies a key reason for why those in power might oppose such campaigns. Future interventions should be sensitive to this difficulty.