The case of road management and digital engagement in Moscow demonstrates that ‘selective responsiveness’ that benefits politicians in China is also a mechanism used in other electoral contexts.Gulnaz Sharafutdinova
30 June 2021
Moscow and the political advantage of potholes
The introduction of digital tools to quickly tackle complaints about potholes in Moscow provided a significant boost to the mayor’s popularity in subsequent election campaigns, new research has found.
Allowing Muscovites to report potholes directly to city authorities using online platforms allowed rapid repairs to take place which, researchers found, brought significant ‘political dividends’ for the incumbent mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, in the 2013 and 2018 election campaigns.
The findings were revealed in a new working paper, Political Dividends of Digital Participatory Governance, co-authored by Dr Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, from the Russia Institute at King’s, Dr Jevgenijs Steinbuks and Dr Nisan Gorgulu, from the World Bank Group.
Researchers studied data from more than 200,000 pothole reports across Moscow made since 2012 and overlayed it with local election data. The results showed that each pothole complaint registered was associated with an additional 29 to 44 votes for the incumbent mayor and an 18 to 27-vote increase in the margin of victory
The researchers said: “Potholes can help the incumbent city government stay in power if they are filled in a timely way. This is an intriguing new finding that emerges from this study.
“We took advantage of a publicly salient policy sphere – road quality – in Moscow to explore the use of digital technologies as means of aggregating information and demonstrating the government’s capacity and effectiveness.
“Our results indicate that greater use of digital technologies - measured by potholes complaints - results in an increased number of votes and a higher margin of victory for the incumbent.”
The researchers suggested that, for authoritarian governments like the one led by Vladimir Putin in Russia, major investment in digital tools to target specific policy areas can help increase feelings of engagement and demonstrate effective governance to citizens, without the more complex systems and investment required in policy areas such as health and education.
The researchers said: “The case of road management and digital engagement in Moscow demonstrates that ‘selective responsiveness’ that benefits politicians in China is also a mechanism used in other electoral contexts.
“It also alerts to the fact that authorities can avoid more complex issue areas that require greater institutional effort, more time, and human capital for development and gain political advantage by focusing on highly visible issues such as pothole repair to gain electoral support.”
You can read the paper in full here.