Good Politicians: Experimental Evidence on Motivations for Political Candidacy and Government Performance

Saad Gulzar, Princeton University and Muhammad Yasir Khan, University of Pittsburgh

How can we motivate good politicians – those that will carry out policy that is responsive to citizens’ preferences – to enter politics? In a field experiment in Pakistan, we vary how political office is portrayed to ordinary citizens. Emphasizing prosocial motives for holding political office instead of personal returns – such as the ability to help others versus enhancing one’s own respect and status – raises the likelihood that individuals run for office and that voters elect them. A year later, the treatment improves the alignment of policy with citizens’ preferences. These effects emerge only when treatments are randomly delivered in a public setting. Taken together, the results demonstrate that how politics is perceived shapes who decides to run for office, who is elected, as well the policies that democracies deliver.