85 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2016
Date Written: September 28, 2016
How do disruptions in basic public service delivery shape people's perceptions of politicians and government? We offer new evidence on this question from the July 2012 blackout in India, the largest in human history. Using data from the second round of the India Human Development Survey, we compare confidence in politicians between households that were surveyed during the outage (treatment) and only days before it (control). Balance statistics show that the treatment and control groups are statistically indistinguishable, and further tests indicate that there was no disturbance to the pattern of surveying because of the outage. We find that, far from undermining public confidence in politicians, the outage increased it, as citizens reacted to the anxiety and fear created by the crisis. The results cannot be explained by attribution error, as people's confidence in irrelevant actors and institutions remains unchanged. Analysis of other survey data provides evidence for external validity. These results have troubling normative implications because they suggest that politicians reap benefits from disruptions in public service delivery, and therefore may have limited incentive to adopt measures to prevent such disruptions.
Keywords: public services, public goods, public opinion, infrastructure, India
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Blankenship, Brian and Urpelainen, Johannes, Electric Shock: The 2012 India Blackout and Public Confidence in Politicians (September 28, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2844816 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2844816