Electoral Security and Legislator Attention: Evidence from the Kenyan National Assembly Debates, 2008-2017

Rhee, Inbok

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How do African legislators divide their attention between the demands of their local constituency and their responsibilities in national parliament? Majority of studies portrays African legislators as mere rubber-stamping constituency servants. I show instead significant variation in legislator attention. Building on the literature on the electoral origins of legislator behavior, I argue that electoral pressure faced by individual legislators heavily conditions their decisions about how to allocate effort between local and national priorities. Using a novel dataset of more than 56,000 speeches made by over 400 unique legislators in the Kenyan National Assembly from 2008 to 2017, I develop speech-based measures of local versus national attention. I show that Kenyan legislators in less competitive constituencies speak more in national parliament, suggesting a greater commitment to national policymaking. Moreover, when I disaggregate data by type of speech, I find that electorally vulnerable legislators engage in locally oriented speeches, whereas those with security speak more about national topics. Speech data thus reveals an interesting tension within democratizing countries: greater democracy on one dimension – contestation – may ironically create barriers to increasing democracy on a different dimension – horizontal accountability.

Issue Date
KDI School of Public Policy and Management
Series Title
KDI School Working Paper 19-18
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