The impact of local elections in China

We study the impact of the introduction of local elections in rural China (1980-2005). We exploit variation in the timing of the top-down introduction of elections and use a unique nationwide survey on the history of electoral reforms to show that elections significantly increased the de facto powers of newly elected leaders, decreased the enforcement of unpopular policies, increased household land allocation and the provision of appropriate public goods. Our results provide evidence that even imperfect elections can increase leader accountability and that marginal shifts towards democracy can significantly improve the well-being of constituents.

A new paper from Nancy Qian, Gerard Padro-i-Miquel, Yiqing Xu and Yang Yao.