The Impact of Elections on Cooperation: Evidence from a Lab-in-the-Field Experiment in Uganda


  • Guy Grossman is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, 225 Stiteler Hall, 208 S. 37th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215 ( Delia Baldassarri is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, 147 Wallace Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544 (

  • We are grateful to Alex Barnard, Eliana Horn, Vivian Lu, and Sylvie Hoster and to our local team of enumerators for excellent research assistance. We thank Diego Gambetta, Benjamin Goodrich, Elizabeth Sperber, Kristin Michelitch, Laura Paler, Timothy Frye, Kimuli Kasara, Michael Hechter, Macartan Humphreys, David Laitin, David Stasavage, three anonymous reviewers, and participants in various seminars and conferences for helpful comments. D.B. gratefully acknowledges support from the NSF Grant SES(IOS)-0924778 and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies. G.G. gratefully acknowledges support from the NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant SES-0921204 and Princeton University's Office of Population Research. Data for replication can be found at

  • Social differentiation denotes the tendency of groups and communities to develop hierarchies, in which social roles are defined as a set of rights and duties members are expected to fulfill (Eguíluz et al. 2005).


Communities often rely on sanctioning to induce public goods contributions. Past studies focus on how external agencies or peer sanctioning induce cooperation. In this article, we focus instead on the role played by centralized authorities, internal to the community. Combining “lab-in-the-field” experiments with observational data on 1,541 Ugandan farmers from 50 communities, we demonstrate the positive effect of internal centralized sanctioning authorities on cooperative behavior. We also show that the size of this effect depends on the political process by which authority is granted: subjects electing leaders contribute more to public goods than subjects who were assigned leaders through a lottery. To test the ecological validity of our findings, we relate farmers’ behavior in the experiment to their level of cooperation in their community organization. We show that deference to authority in the controlled setting predicts cooperative behavior in the farmers’ natural environment, in which they face a similar social dilemma.