Understanding the Determinants of Legislators' Attention in Kenya

Student Researcher: Inbok Rhee
Location: Kenya

What motivates legislators in executive-dominated systems to focus their attention on national rather than local activities? This project uses text messages to current Kenyan Members of the Parliament (MPs) to test specific mechanisms through which MPs can be motivated to go to parliament floors and participate in roll-call voting.

African legislatures are often characterized as “rubber stamps,” filled with politicians whose primary goal is to send resources back to their home constituencies. In such a context, encouraging MPs to have more of a national outlook has been a major focus of international and bilateral donors for the past two decades. Despite such efforts, we still face the problem of widespread MP absenteeism. For instance, a 2014 National Assembly report showed that some MPs missed more than 90 out of 166 sessions, despite the introduction in February 2014 of biometric technology to record attendance.

The experiment will involve delivering text messages to current MPs to encourage them to attend parliament sessions and displaying their roll-call records on a public website. The design of the experiment will closely mimic classic Get-Out-the-Votes (GOTV) studies aimed at encouraging voters to turn out.

One reason that even the introduction of biometric technology was a weak sanctioning measure may be because actual attendance and voting records, though publicly available in theory, are extremely difficult to access. Accordingly, a public website that displays MPs’ roll-call vote records will also be designed and fielded.

This field experiment is part of a broader project on understanding the determinants of legislators’ local and national attention in Kenya.

Results

Preliminary fieldwork has been completed and roll call vote data for the 10th and 11th parliament is being cleaned. A prototype website has been developed.