Rosenzweig: Insights on citizen participation in authoritarian countries


February 5, 2016

Nigeria is one of just three countries where polio remains endemic, in part because many families there don’t comply with government vaccination programs. In a quest to find out why, Leah Rosenzweig, an MIT Political Science doctoral candidate, undertook a research project, expecting to find that distrust of government was the root cause. But Rosenzweig was surprised to discover a very different explanation. “Using qualitative and quantitative data, my coauthors and I found that distrust of government was not a significant variable,” she explains. “Most people actually know that the polio vaccination is good for them. But when the state and international organizations arrive at citizens’ doorsteps to vaccinate kids, citizens realize it’s a rare opportunity for them to bargain with the state. In this way they can make their voices heard about basic health care, malaria drugs, and other public services that they really need. We think this bargaining motive explains a lot of the non-compliance.”

In other words, declining a vaccination turned out to be a form of political participation — a way for communities to convey their opinions and desires to their leaders. “The question of participation is very interesting,” says Rosenzweig. “We often think of political participation very narrowly — voting, campaigning, basically electoral behavior. But in some contexts, particularly in the developing world, participation is often practiced outside of electoral cycles and systems, especially in authoritarian and transitional countries.” Read more

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