Why Don’t Indian Voters Hold Politicians Accountable For Air Pollution?

Talk by Tariq Thachil (Political Science, University of Pennsylvania)

Urban citizens in low-income democracies rarely hold elected officials accountable for toxic air. To understand why, we fielded a large citizen survey in Delhi, India, a highly polluted megacity where voters rarely prioritize air pollution at the polls. We find no evidence of conventional explanations for accountability failures: residents are aware of pollution’s adverse impacts, do not privilege development over curbing emissions, and are not fractured along class or ethnic lines on this issue. Instead, we find partisanship and sensitivity to the potential private costs of mitigation policies reduce accountability pressures. On the other hand, a simple randomized intervention (sharing indoor air quality information) that personalizes the costs of air pollution increases its electoral salience. We reveal key opportunities and constraints for mobilizing public opinion to reduce air pollution in developing democracies.

Tariq Thachi is Professor of Political Science, Director of the Center for Advanced Study of India (CASI), and Madan Lal Sobti Professor for the Study of Contemporary India at the University of Pennsylvania. His recent book (coauthored with Adam Auerbach), Migrants and Machine Politics, focuses on the political lives of poor migrants in Indian cities. His first book, Elite Parties, Poor Voters examines how elite parties can use social services to win mass support, through a study of Hindu nationalism in India. He received his PhD in Government from Cornell University in 2009.

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