Ingroup Bias in Official Behavior: A National Field Experiment in China

Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 9(2): 203-230.

MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2013-8

32 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2013 Last revised: 24 Jun 2014

Greg Distelhorst

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Yue Hou

Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: May 5, 2014

Abstract

Do ingroup biases distort the behavior of public officials? Recent studies detect large ethnic biases in elite political behavior, but their case selection leaves open the possibility that bias obtains under relatively narrow historical and institutional conditions. We clarify these scope conditions by studying ingroup bias in the radically different political, historical, and ethnic environment of contemporary China. In a national field experiment, local officials were 33 percent less likely to provide assistance to citizens with ethnic Muslim names than to ethnically-unmarked peers. We find evidence consistent with the ingroup bias interpretation of this finding and detect little role for strategic incentives mediating this effect. This result demonstrates that neither legacies of institutionalized racism nor electoral politics are necessary to produce large ingroup biases in official behavior. It also suggests that ethnically-motivated distortions to governance are more prevalent than previously documented.

Keywords: Comparative politics, Ethnic bias, Representation, Field experiments, China, Political behavior

Suggested Citation

Distelhorst, Greg and Hou, Yue, Ingroup Bias in Official Behavior: A National Field Experiment in China (May 5, 2014). Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 9(2): 203-230.; MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2013-8. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2247644 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2247644

Greg Distelhorst (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

77 Massachusetts Ave.
E62-416
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.gregdistelhorst.com

Yue Hou

Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Stiteler Hall
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: http://web.mit.edu/polisci/people/gradstudents/yue-hou.html

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