Do Politicians Discriminate Against Internal Migrants? Evidence from Nationwide Field Experiments in India

Abstract

In recent decades, the global south has witnessed an explosive increase in the number of people relocating from rural to urban areas. Yet many migrants struggle to integrate into destination cities, facing severe hurdles to accessing adequate housing, as well as essential public goods and services such as healthcare and education. We posit that a key explanation for these difficulties lies in unequal political representation. We conduct two audit experiments to test whether urban politicians discriminate against internal migrants vis-a-vis long-term residents (\"natives\") in providing essential constituency services. We find that fictitious migrants are 23% less likely to receive a callback from a councillor in response to a mailed letter request for assistance compared to an otherwise similar native. What mechanisms explain this effect? In a second experiment using SMS, we show that migrants signaling that they are registered to vote in municipal ward elections receive callbacks at much higher rates than migrants signaling they are unregistered. Even more strikingly, signaling that migrants are registered to vote closes the migrant-native callback gap documented in the first experiment. We take this to indicate that politicians' beliefs about migrants' generally low participation in city elections leads them to ignore requests by migrants for help, because they foresee no electoral returns to providing assistance. Overall, this paper informs policy debates about how to improve the welfare of internal migrants, who count among the world's most marginalized population groups.

Citation

Gaikwad, N.; Nellis, G. Do Politicians Discriminate Against Internal Migrants? Evidence from Nationwide Field Experiments in India. International Growth Centre (IGC), London, UK (2016) 52 pp.

Do Politicians Discriminate Against Internal Migrants? Evidence from Nationwide Field Experiments in India

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