(How) Do Elections Build States? Evidence from Liberian Electoral Administration

Jeremy Bowles (Harvard University)

Abstract: In contexts where the state otherwise has limited reach, effective electoral administration permits the projection of state authority and increases levels of state-citizen interaction. Accordingly, I examine how increased access to elections affects citizens’ trust in formal political institutions. Studying the expansion of polling places in Liberia between its 2014 and 2017 elections, I leverage unusually rich data in a difference-in-differences design. Outcome data comes from (1) record linkage between deanonymized administrative data sources and the complete voter registers for each election; (2) a panel survey of citizens’ experiences in each election. To account for confounding in the targeting of new polling places, I compare individuals in localities close to a new polling place to those close to a ‘potential’ new polling place, which are constructed using internal documents of the electoral commission. I find that increased electoral access notably increases citizens’ trust in formal state institutions, much more so than in elected branches of government.

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