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Electric Shock: The 2012 India Blackout and Public Confidence in Politicians

85 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2016  

Brian Blankenship

Columbia University

Johannes Urpelainen

Johns Hopkins SAIS

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

Blankenship, Brian and Urpelainen, Johannes, Electric Shock: The 2012 India Blackout and Public Confidence in Politicians (September 28, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Brian Blankenship

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Johannes Urpelainen (Contact Author)

Johns Hopkins SAIS ( email )

1740 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036-1984
United States

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