In the APSA Public Scholarship Program, graduate students in political science produce summaries of new research in the American Political Science Review. This piece, written by Nicole Wells, covers the new article by Saad Gulzar, Stanford University, Nicholas Haas, Aarhus University and Benjamin Pasquale, Independent Scholar, Does Political Affirmative Action Work, and for Whom? Theory and Evidence on India’s Scheduled Areas
Affirmative action has long been a controversial policy in education, employment, and politics. Opponents of such policies often argue that the preferential treatment of certain candidates undermines the fundamental principles of democracy and equality. Yet in many countries, there is a quota system in place to advance equality with reserved places for women and minorities in government. In a recent study, Saad Gulzar, Nicholas Haas, and Benjamin Pasquale find that electoral affirmative action increases access to economic and political resources for historically disadvantaged populations. In analyzing welfare programs in India, they found that there are large gains for targeted minorities and improvements in programs for the poor in regions where political quotas are in place.
In 1947, the Indian Parliament passed a law that designated regions with large populations of minorities as Scheduled Areas with special programs and institutions designed to cater to the Scheduled Tribes identity group. The government went further in 2000 to pass the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act. This Act requires that all Scheduled Areas reserve the chairperson positions at every level of local government councils and at least half of the seats of the councils for those that belong to Scheduled Tribes. Gulzar, Haas, and Pasquale’s study is the first-time political scientists have conducted a systematic quantitative analysis of the effects of designated Scheduled Areas on minority groups. This study shows that ensuring equal representation for disadvantaged groups matters.
The authors look to two of India’s largest welfare programs, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) to understand how electoral quotas promote access to resources for the historically disadvantaged. NREGS is an employment program that provides a minimum of 100 days of employment to the rural poor. PMGSY supports the construction of roads between rural villages in unconnected areas. Their study compares the efficacy and progress of these two government programs in areas with electoral quotas and those without, over several years.
Gulzar, Haas, and Pasquale use geographic datasets to explore the effect of affirmative action in elections. This allowed them to visualize the data and the differences between villages in Scheduled and non-Scheduled areas. Areas that reserved seats for Scheduled Tribes provided more economic support for targeted minority populations. Specifically, they saw an increase in the number of workdays in the NREGS program for this area. Gains for targeted minorities came primarily at the expense of those from comparatively more privileged groups, who received fewer workdays. While so much of the world is still marred by inequality, this study provides critical insights into the ways in which government policies can grant greater social, political, and economic equality for historically disadvantaged groups.
The authors compared road construction before and after the introduction of the electoral quota system. Under the PMGSY initiative, areas with affirmative action were more likely to have completed roads. This study shows that ensuring equal representation for disadvantaged groups matters. Electoral quotas have a real-world effect on policy and those who it benefits. In the case of India, Scheduled Areas meant greater access to employment and vital infrastructure for targeted minority populations.
While so much of the world is still marred by inequality, this study provides critical insights into the ways in which government policies can grant greater social, political, and economic equality for historically disadvantaged groups. Political affirmative action is an important mechanism that levels the playing field for minorities. The key takeaway is that improving political representation and governance for minority groups promotes greater access to resources for individuals from those groups and reduces the inequality gap.
- Nicole Wells is a PhD student at George Mason University. Her research focuses on democratization, democratic erosion and authoritarianism in Europe and Eurasia. Prior to becoming a PhD student, Nicole was a Fulbright Scholar where she taught Visual Culture, American Rhetoric, and American National Identity at Transylvania University in Brașov, Romania. When she is not studying, Nicole volunteers as a museum guide with the National Women’s Party and educates the public on the NWP’s role in winning women’s right to vote. She resides in Washington, DC where she is known in her neighborhood as the crazy cat lady that walks her cat on a leash.
- Article details: American Political Science Review, First View, Does Political Affirmative Action Work, and for Whom? Theory and Evidence on India’s Scheduled Areas, Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2020
- About the APSA Public Scholarship Program.