Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Retrospective Voting, Natural Disasters, and Electoral Backlash
19th January, 2017 (Thursday) at 3:00 PM
Venue : Seminar Room (First Floor)
Department of Economics, Delhi School of Economics
All are cordially invited
While scholarship on "retrospective voting'' has found that incumbent politicians can be punished for a range of events outside their control, such as natural disasters, the literature does not consider the ability of politicians to respond to disasters and the impact of this response on voters. We argue that retrospective voters punish only opposition incumbents (candidates in office but not aligned with the government leader), who have limited access to government resources for relief, for natural disasters. We use monthly data on precipitation and evaporation to capture droughts and floods in India's four thousand State Assembly electoral constituencies over the years 1977-2007. Consistent with our hypothesis, we find that Members of State Assembly from the party of the Prime or Chief Minister do not face an electoral backlash under bad weather conditions during the summer harvest season, whereas opposition politicians face major losses. Using household survey data, we next demonstrate that this punishment is meted by people who do not benefit from government relief. These results not only refine theories of retrospective voting by considering the role of political alignment, but also raise troubling questions about democratic politics in India and other developing countries.