Testing Legislator Responsiveness to Citizens and Firms in Single-Party Regimes

With China’s role in the spotlight in the international community, it is sometimes overlooked that the region of Southeast Asia is critical for contemporary economic and security issues. The governments in these countries are thus incredibly important and worth studying – powerful comparisons between China and these countries’ regimes are even more impactful for studying authoritarian politics and how these countries interact.

Edmund Malesky, Professor of Political Science at Duke University, does exactly this in studying the Vietnamese legislature. He studied the tendency for delegates to respond to citizen and firm preferences with respect to an education law. This study is incredibly interesting and innovative because Malesky and his team were able to partner with the Vietnamese National Assembly and assess this question in a randomized field experiment: certain delegates were assigned scorecards that reflected citizen and firm preferences. He found that these delegates who were provided more information about the law were more likely to feel prepared in legislative sessions, and more likely to speak in floor debates or query sessions. However, there was no evidence that these delegates directly referenced the citizen preferences as noted on the scorecards. Ultimately, responsiveness in authoritarian regimes may be measured as getting legislators to discuss citizen or firm preferences in an official policy debate, so Malesky’s experiment does have important implications.

The results that Malesky reports are significant for understanding legislator responsiveness in Vietnam but may also have implications for other autocratic regimes like China. Interestingly enough, delegates were more likely to feel prepared and responsive with respect to citizens’ preferences rather than those of firms. Such a result may be reversed in a country like China where businesses have more influence in the legislature. Malesky and his team anticipate running a similar experiment in May 2019 on a labor law; perhaps a second run of the experiment in a different policy space may reveal more of an amenable or generalizable result.

Malesky’s talk today was co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Workshop in Comparative Politics hosted by the Political Science Department. This research is part of an upcoming paper: if you’re interested in learning more about Professor Malesky’s research you can check out his work here.

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