Can Foreign Aid Make Elections More Competitive?

The original version of this post is available on The Washington Post Monkey Cage blog. Read the full version of the post here
AidData recently launched a new online platform and GIS module, which makes it significantly easier for researchers to upload, download, join, and visualize high-resolution, spatial data. The launch of  "AidData 3.0" inspired me to take the GIS module for a test drive to explore the following question: how does the sub-national distribution of foreign aid affect the competitiveness of elections in developing democracies? I suspect that aid projects are attractive to candidates because they can (1) take credit for the completion of a past project in their constituency that is highly palpable to voters (the credit-taking hypothesis), or (2) manipulate who benefits from future projects, either by awarding contracts to supporters or engaging in corruption in order to enrich themselves (the rent-seeking hypothesis). An alternative hypothesis is that aid reduces competitiveness because the incumbent takes all the credit for the project, thereby disadvantaging competitors (the incumbency-advantage hypothesis). The null hypothesis – that aid has no effect on electoral outcomes – is also plausible. Given the vast array of issues at stake in a typical election, such as national economic policies, security, etc., one might not expect aid projects to have any discernible impact.

Joel Selway is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University and a member of the AidData Research Consortium