Politicians and their promises in an uncertain world: Evidence from a lab-in-the-field experiment in India

Research output: Working paper


In emerging economies, policy implementation failures may be caused by bureaucratic inefficiency, strategic conduct by elected or non-elected office holders or by other hurdles. For local citizens, uncertainty about the true cause of a failure prevails. We examine the effect of a promise as a mechanism to mitigate implementation failures in a laboratory experiment with local politician participants. In our modified dictator game, nature intervenes with positive probability and randomly allocates the endowment to the dictator or recipient. A
core feature of our design is that a recipient who receives zero does not know whether nature intervened or not: a dictator’s selfish allocation can therefore be hidden. We compare two treatments, (1) baseline: dictators choose how much to give when they, and not nature, decide the outcome; (2) promise: dictators make a non-binding promise to the recipient prior to deciding how much to give. In the baseline, about one third of politicians distribute zero; in the promise treatment, 88 % of politicians promise to give a positive amount and 83 % keep
their promise. Giving is significantly more generous and the fraction of zero-giving significantly lower in the promise treatment. These results support our simple theoretical model which predicts that a promise affects the behaviour of politicians who care about their image and who incur a psychological cost from not keeping their word.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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