March 2020

IZA DP No. 13027: Persuasive Agenda-Setting: Rodrigo Duterte's Inauguration Speech and Drugs in the Philippines

published in: Journal of Development Economics, 2022, 156 ,102843

Can democratically elected politicians persuade their constituents to alter policy priorities? With little empirical support for this hypothesis to date, we propose that Rodrigo Duterte's inauguration speech on June 30, 2016 systematically shifted the Filipinos' policy agenda toward prioritizing illegal drugs. We first study day-to-day variation in national and sub-national Google searches over six months, identifying a strong and persistent increase in drug-related searches right after the speech. Placebo tests rule out potentially confounding topics, such as pharmaceutical drugs, Duterte's 'War on Drugs', or common time trends with neighboring countries. Next, to better identify causality, we exploit the exogenous timing of traditional local festivals, which we argue resulted in some of the Philippines' 81 provinces being less exposed to Duterte's speech. The corresponding results are consistent with our hypothesis: less exposed provinces had smaller increases in drug-related Google searches. Finally, we examine individual-level survey responses that more directly capture policy priorities and uncover similar results: crime has moved to the top of the Filipinos' policy agenda. Results that exploit the same identication strategy based on local festivals hint at a causal effect of the speech on these policy priorities.