Propaganda and Politics in Developing Countries: Evidence from India

45 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2015 Last revised: 7 Jan 2015

See all articles by David S. Blakeslee

David S. Blakeslee

New York University (NYU) - New York University Abu Dhabi

Date Written: November 25, 2014


This paper provides evidence for the effects of propaganda in inducing voters to support political parties espousing ideologies of ethno-religious nationalism. Prior to the 1991 Indian national elections, the leader of the Hindu-nationalist BJP party undertook a campaign across northern India to promote the construction of a Hindu temple at a particularly sensitive site. Causal identification of the campaign’s effect comes through the incidental exposure of localities due to their lying along the road joining the cities which were the ultimate target destinations. The main result is that the campaign increased the BJP’s vote share by 3.5-9.5 percentage points in the constituencies through which it passed. This was not due to an increase in voter turnout, which was unaffected by the campaign. In addition, the probability of riots increased by 7 ppts, and the associated riots increased the party’s vote share by 3.5 ppts. The improvement in the BJP’s vote share translated to a 10-28 ppts increase in the probability of victory for the BJP in visited constituencies. The effect is found to be largest where there was a significant Muslim population, indicating that the presence of the stigmatized minority group was crucial to the campaign’s effectiveness. There is some evidence that the campaign led to an increase in the availability of local public goods in the local communities through which it directly passed.

Keywords: Political economy; Propaganda; Ethnic conflict; Ethnic politics; Public goods; India

JEL Classification: D71, D72, H41, N35, O10

Suggested Citation

Blakeslee, David S., Propaganda and Politics in Developing Countries: Evidence from India (November 25, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

David S. Blakeslee (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - New York University Abu Dhabi ( email )

PO Box 129188
Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

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