2020. "Mitigating Adverse Political Selection: Experimental Evidence from a Leadership Training for Aspiring Politicians in the Philippines."
Abstract. Good political leaders matter for governance outcomes. Yet incompetent and dishonest candidates get elected simply because low-quality citizens are more likely to select into politics than their high-quality counterparts. Can leadership training with performance-based incentives screen and motivate high-quality citizens to choose politics? We randomly assigned 569 would-be politicians in the Philippines into no training, training with unconditional awards (T1), and training with performance-based awards (T2). We find that, five years later, only in T2 are low public-minded and low-aptitude subjects less likely to run for office than their control group counterparts. These results highlight how prototypical mechanism designs in economics can help mitigate adverse selection in politics.
2020. Ravanilla, Nico, Michael Davidson and Allen Hicken. "Voting in Clientelistic Social Networks: Evidence from the Philippines." Under review.
Abstract. In clientelistic environments, voters want to know which politicians are most likely to deliver on targeted benefits. We argue that in these contexts voters use their social proximity with candidates as heuristics to inform vote choice. To test our theory, we rely on local naming conventions to reconstruct family networks spanning one whole city in the Philippines, and asses blood and marriage links between voters and local candidates. We then collect survey data on pre-election candidate leanings and actual voting behavior of 895 randomly drawn voters. We show that the degrees of separation between voters and candidates explain not only aggregate electoral outcomes but also individual vote choice, controlling for pre-election leanings. We demonstrate that this is because private inducements are channeled through family networks. These findings highlight the electoral importance of social proximity with politicians as an information shortcut when voters are choosing whom to support at the polls.
2020. Ravanilla, Nico, Dotan Haim and Allen Hicken. "Brokers, Social Networks, Reciprocity, and Clientelism." American Journal of Political Science (Accepted).
Abstract. Although canonical models of clientelism argue that brokers use dense social networks to monitor and enforce vote buying, recent evidence suggests that brokers can instead target intrinsically reciprocal voters and reduce the need for active monitoring and enforcement. Combining a trove of survey data on brokers and voters in the Philippines with an experiment-based measure of reciprocity, and relying on local naming conventions to build social networks, we demonstrate that brokers employ both strategies conditional on the underlying social network structure. We show that brokers are chosen for their central position in networks and are knowledgeable about voters, including their reciprocity levels. We then show that, where village social networks are dense, brokers prefer to target voters that have many ties in the network because their votes are easiest to monitor. Where networks are sparse, brokers target intrinsically reciprocal voters whose behavior they need not monitor.
"Debunking 4 myths about vote buying" Apolitical.
2019. Ravanilla, Nico. "The Philippine Elections: Has Politics Changed Under Duterte?" Asian Politics & Policy. 11(4): 674-678.
Excerpt. Nothing about the May 2019 midterm elections results is out of the ordinary
when viewed in light of previous Philippine midterm elections in recent memory. Duterte may have come to power as a clear outsider in 2016, but by allowing the traditional political elites to switch allegiances and persist under his leadership, he has decidedly replicated the patronage politics that he stood against in the first place. At the end of the day, the Philippines has reverted back to politics as usual, with a new patron in Malacañang. This is not all that surprising: the formal electoral institutions (e.g., multimember plurality system) have not changed, and therefore the political incentives that they generate (e.g., intra-party competition, personality-based campaigning, and retail vote-buying) also remain unchanged (Ravanilla, 2019).
2019. Ravanilla, Nico. "The Multimember Plurality System in the Philippines & Its Implications." In Strong Patronage, Weak Parties: The Case for Electoral System Redesign in the Philippines, ed. Paul Hutchcroft.
The chapter "closes out the volume by examining the electoral system that is most prevalent in the Philippines. His analysis of its dysfunctional consequences is already summarized above, to which must be added his forceful assertion of its broader impact: “Given that MPS is the system used in the selection of over 14,000 of the country’s some 18,000 elected officials, it is safe to conclude that the deficiencies of MPS translate quite directly into deficiencies of Philippine democracy more generally.” After surveying electoral reform experiences in Japan and Thailand, he suggests that “shifting to closed-list PR while maintaining the multimember nature of districts might offer some traction and prove successful in improving democratic outcomes in the Philippines.” Through the use of CLPR for elections to the Senate, party members would “now have the incentive to coordinate amongst each other, so that campaign strategies tend to be more party-centered.” Such a shift is not without risk, he further emphasizes, as “without clear laws governing the conduct of political parties, the system is prone to capture by the ‘list maker(s)’ within the party—those controlling who gets to be included in the party slate and how they are to be ranked.” Having acknowledged these risks, he nonetheless concludes by advocating an end to the current highly dysfunctional system: “If the overarching goal is to facilitate democratic accountability and consolidation, develop well-functioning political parties, improve representation, and shift campaign strategies as well as governance styles from personalistic to programmatic, then electoral system reform is a critical first step.”
2018. Hicken, Allen, Stephen Leider, Nico Ravanilla and Dean Yang. "Temptation in Vote-Selling: Evidence from a Field Experiment in the Philippines." Journal of Development Economics. 131(-): 1-14.
Abstract. We report the results of a randomized field experiment in the Philippines on the effects of two common anti-vote-selling strategies involving eliciting promises from voters. An invitation to promise not to vote-sell is taken up by most respondents, reduces vote-selling, and has a larger effect in races with smaller vote-buying payments. The treatment reduces vote-selling in the smallest-stakes election by 10.9 percentage points. Inviting voters to promise to “vote your conscience” despite accepting money is significantly less effective. The results are consistent with a behavioral model in which voters are only partially sophisticated about their vote-selling temptation.
2015. Hicken, Allen, Stephen Leider, Nico Ravanilla and Dean Yang. "Measuring Vote-Selling: Field Evidence from the Philippines." American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings. 105(5): 352-56.
Abstract. Using data from an anti-vote-buying field experiment we conducted in the Philippines, we report and validate a proxy measure for vote-selling. We demonstrate that our proxy measure, vote-switching, changes as expected with voter preferences and monetary offers from candidates. Voters are less likely to vote for someone different than their initial preference the larger the favorability rating difference between the preferred and alternative candidates. Similarly, vote-switching increases the more money the alternative candidate offers compared to the preferred candidates. We also describe the effects of the promise-based interventions on vote-switching, reported in full in a companion paper.
2020. Haim, Dotan, Nico Ravanilla and Renard Sexton. "Sustained government engagement improves subsequent COVID-19 pandemic surveillance in conflict zones." Under review.
Abstract. Citizen information sharing is crucial to a government's ability to respond to an outbreak of a pandemic disease, such as COVID-19. In conflict zones, however, citizens and local leaders often lack trust in state institutions and are unwilling to cooperate, risking costly delays and information gaps. We report results from a randomized experiment in the Philippines regarding government efforts to provide services and build trust with rural communities in a conflict-affected region. We find that the outreach program increased by 20% the probability that local leaders provide time-sensitive risk information critical to the regional Covid Task Force. The effect is driven by leaders who at baseline were skeptical about government capacity and fairness, as well as neutral or positive attitudes towards rebels. These findings highlight the important role that government efforts to build connections with conflict-impacted communities can play in determining public health outcomes during times of national emergencies.
2020. Ravanilla, Nico, Renard Sexton and Dotan Haim. "Deadly Populism: How Local Political Outsiders Drive Duterte's War on Drugs in the Philippines." Journal of Politics (Accepted).
Abstract. Around the world, populists have won elections on the strength of crowd-pleasing, but norm-defying, policy proposals. Although effective at mobilizing support at election time, these policies are often difficult to implement in practice because populists lack allies throughout the political system. Examining President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal "War on Drugs'' in the Philippines, we find that mayors excluded from existing establishment patronage networks filled this critical implementation gap for the Duterte administration. Employing regression discontinuity and difference-in-differences approaches, we demonstrate that outsider mayors received 40 percent lower public works appropriations, and, in turn, executed Duterte's drug war much more aggressively. Outsider-led municipalities had 40 percent more anti-drug incidents and 60 percent more extra-judicial killings by police. The results illustrate an important trade-off between patronage politics and corruption (politics-as-usual), and violent democratic backsliding.
2019 APSA Southeast Asian Politics Related Group Best Paper Award - Open Category
2020. Nanes, Matthew, Nico Ravanilla and Dotan Haim. "Fire Alarms for Police Patrols: Experimental Evidence on Co-Production of Public Safety."
Abstract. Public safety provision requires joint action by citizens and the government. Authorities rely on citizen information sharing to allocate scarce resources efficiently. In the Global South, search costs like excessive travel time to a police station discourage citizens from reporting information. We experimentally evaluate an emergency hotline intended to reduce these costs in a rural province of the Philippines where authorities struggle to combat both crime and insurgency. We compare the hotline against both a control condition and a typical community policing initiative designed to increase citizen trust in the police. Relative to control, the hotline significantly increased reporting by citizens, even after accounting for the impact of typical community policing activities. However, while treated areas experienced less insurgent activity, the hotline had no perceptible impact on ordinary crime. Evidence suggests that the police acted only on information concerning their own priorities while ignoring other tips. Our findings demonstrate the impact of search costs on citizen-police cooperation, while cautioning that citizen engagement alone may not automatically improve public safety.
2017. "Motives in Pork Distribution: Partisan Bias or Patronage?"
Abstract. This paper examines whether and why legislators favor co-partisans in the provision of fiscal legislative particularism or pork. Legislators can either distribute in favor of mayoral allies in unsafe seats to help them win reelections or in favor of powerful allies who can deliver electoral support in exchange of pork largess. Using regression discontinuities (RD) in close elections, I identify the effect of the partisan alignment between legislators and mayors on pork distribution in the Philippines. I find that aligned mayors receive twice as much funds obtained by unaligned mayors. Focusing on razor-close House elections and estimating heterogeneous local average treatment effects (HLATE) in mayors' vote-share margin of victory, I then show that legislators favor aligned mayors in safe seats the most, and unaligned mayors in safe seats the least. Consistent with theory on patronage, legislators favor powerful aligned mayors that deliver the vote and penalize powerful but unaligned ones.
2015. Atkinson, James, Allen Hicken and Nico Ravanilla. "Pork & Typhoons: The Influence of Political Connections on Disaster Response." In Building Inclusive Democracies in ASEAN, eds. Ronald Mendoza, et al. Manila: Anvil, 74-96.
Abstract. To what extent do political connections between politicians influence disaster response? To address this question, we produce a baseline estimate for post-disaster need by calculating a storm exposure measure for every municipality in the Philippines from 2001-2010. Then, controlling for storm exposure, we analyze the effect of political connections on reconstruction fund distribution from House legislators to municipal mayors. Our analysis shows that political connections, especially clan ties, increase reconstruction funds allocated to a given municipality. These results suggest that a more needs-based disaster response may require placing a limit on political discretion in the disbursement of post-disaster funds.