American Political Science Review

The Adverse Effects of Sunshine: A Field Experiment on Legislative Transparency in an Authoritarian Assembly


a1 Duke University

a2 University of California–San Diego

a3 Indiana University–Bloomington


An influential literature has demonstrated that legislative transparency can improve the performance of parliamentarians in democracies. In a democracy, the incentive for improved performance is created by voters’ responses to newly available information. Building on this work, donor projects have begun to export transparency interventions to authoritarian regimes under the assumption that nongovernmental organizations and the media can substitute for the incentives created by voters. Such interventions, however, are at odds with an emerging literature that argues that authoritarian parliaments primarily serve the role of co-optation and limited power sharing, where complaints can be raised in a manner that does not threaten regime stability. We argue that under these conditions, transparency may have perverse effects, and we test this theory with a randomized experiment on delegate behavior in query sessions in Vietnam, a single-party authoritarian regime. We find no evidence of a direct effect of the transparency treatment on delegate performance; however, further analysis reveals that delegates subjected to high treatment intensity demonstrate robust evidence of curtailed participation and damaged reelection prospects. These results make us cautious about the export of transparency without electoral sanctioning.


c1 Edmund Malesky is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Duke University, 326 Perkins Library, Box 90204, Durham, NC 27708 (

c2 Paul Schuler is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, University of California at San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, 0519, La Jolla, CA, 92093 (

c3 Anh Tran is Assistant Professor, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University at Bloomington, 1315 East Tenth Street, Bloomington, IN 47405 (


  Data and replication materials for the article are available under the authors’ names at The authors are grateful for generous funding for this research provided by the Hellman Fellowship Award, the University of California Junior Faculty Career Grant, and the Emerging Markets of Pacific Center at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Earlier versions of this manuscript were presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (2010), the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association (2011), Cornell University Southeast Asian Studies Workshop, the UCSD International Relations and Pacific Studies Advisory Board, the Conference on Authoritarian Constitutions—University of Chicago Law School, the Political Institutions and Economic Policy Conference (PIEP) at Princeton University, the University of British Columbia Experimental Workshop, the Centre de Recerca en Economia Internacional Annual Conference, the Center for Economic Policy Research Conference, the Northeast University Development Consortium at Yale University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Research assistance was provided by Huyen Giap and Thuy Ngo. Finally, the article benefited from the helpful advice of James Alt, Pierre Andre, Monika Bauer, Peter Cowhey, Barbara Geddes, Marcia Grimes, Gordon Hanson, Macartan Humphreys, Stephan Haggard, Humphreys, Stephen Litshig, Tom Melton, Helen Milner, Stephen Morris, Rebecca Morton, Craig McIntosh, Laura Paler, Keith Taylor, Nguyen Anh Tuan, Dan Slater, three anonymous reviewers, and the co-editors of the American Political Science Review. All mistakes are our own.