Studies in Comparative International Development

, Volume 53, Issue 4, pp 449–476 | Cite as

Trust in Government and Subsidy Reform: Evidence from a Survey of Indian Farmers

  • Meir AlkonEmail author
  • Johannes Urpelainen


What accounts for the persistence of inefficient subsidies? What are the obstacles to their reform? We examine the role of trust in government among farmers in explaining support for reforming India’s energy subsidies. The subsidies under study hold back efforts to provide a reliable supply of agricultural power and contribute to the unsustainable extraction of groundwater. This water-energy nexus in rural India represents both a poverty-perpetuating policy equilibrium and a crisis in environmental governance. Informed by interviews and focus groups, we conduct an original survey of 2010 farmers in Bihar, Gujarat, and Rajasthan and analyze this data on the preferences of “vested interests”—those most affected by potential reform—to demonstrate the crucial role of political trust, especially trust in the national government, in predicting farmers’ political support for reforms. Our findings have practical implications for environmental governance and rural development and contribute to understanding the political economy of social policy reform in a developing democracy.


Subsidies Social policies Trust Electricity Public opinion 



We thank the Cross-Cutting Initiative at Earth Institute at Columbia University for funding and MORSEL India for data collection. We are grateful to seminar participants at Princeton University, Brian Blankenship, and Ram Fishman for helpful comments. Vijay Modi and Tushaar Shah contributed to the study design. The full survey data and survey instrument, as well as all code necessary to replicate the results in this manuscript are available on Dataverse here:

Supplementary material

12116_2018_9266_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (229 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 229 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics and Woodrow Wilson SchoolPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  2. 2.Energy, Resources and EnvironmentJohns Hopkins SAISWashingtonUSA

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