Do Citizens Reward Good Service? Voter Responses to Basic Service Provision in Southern Africa

"Theories of democratic governance posit that citizens should reward politicians for good service and punish them for bad. But does electoral accountability work as theorized, especially in developing country contexts? Studying southern African democracies, where infrastructural investment in basic services has expanded widely but not universally, we find a surprising answer to this question: Voters who receive services are less likely to support the incumbent. We first analyze how changes in local service provision relate to changes in voting returns at the aggregate level and then use geocoded, individual-level survey data to explore the micro-level relationships among service delivery, political attitudes, and voting intentions. We find a negative relationship between change in service provision and change in incumbent vote share. Similarly, at the individual level, those with access to basic services say that they are less likely to vote for the incumbent. We provide some preliminary evidence with respect to likely explanations for this surprising result."