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Study of political machines in election campaigns in Uganda (2016/2017)

The political machines study is an attempt to understand political campaign finance, especially as it relates to vote buying. Uganda’s recent general elections in 2011 and 2016 have been marred by allegations of vote buying, a vice that is not only illegal but out-rightly condemned by all political sides and stakeholders alike, yet its mention persisted.

Moving political parties away from vote-buying and towards competition in a policy space is an important step for true democratization. Studies have shown that campaigns that target people with anti-vote buying messages make them less likely to sell their vote.  However, existing studies have not been able to answer questions about whether these campaigns reduce the total vote-buying potential or whether politicians do such campaigns by either (a) simply raising the price that they pay or (b) simply moving campaign resources away from areas that are targeted by the anti-vote-buying campaign and invest them in untargeted areas. 

The study is a follow-up to an unusually large anti-vote buying campaign that took place in 1400 villages across 53 districts in Uganda in January and February 2016. The anti-vote buying campaign was designed and run by a large network of local civil society activists across all of Uganda, the Alliance for Election Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM), coordinated by an international NGO, the National Democratic Institute (NDI). Their approach tried to foster collective commitments in a village not to sell any votes by having three village meetings to discuss the problems posed by vote-selling and attempted to build a public declaration of the village as a “no vote-buying village.” This campaign was randomized across villages and across parishes, giving rise to control and treatment areas.

Post 2016 elections, a large number of interviews were conducted across 4200 villages (1400 treated and 2800 control) across 918 parishes in 53 districts throughout the country; in each village, 7 randomly adult registered voters were interviewed and 1 “key informant”, the key informant being selected by other villagers as someone particularly knowledgeable about politics in the village. 

To complement these survey efforts, more in-depth interviews were conducted with political brokers – individuals who facilitate election campaigns at grass-root level, as well as at Parish, Subcounty, Constituency and District levels. The primary goal of this exercise is to understand the political machines – the processes and structures that facilitate electioneering and potentially make vote-buying possible.

Data collection was completed at the end of May 2017, and a report is being finalized. It is expected that findings will help national efforts to further understand election campaign finance, and will be shared with all state and non-state stakeholders.