Voter behavior: does information matter?

The findings of Banerjee et al. (2011) from a field experiment in India using politician report cards seem to suggest yes:

Each report card contained information about incumbent performance along three dimensions – legislative activity, committee attendance and spending of discretionary constituency development funds across eight public good categories. It also provided information on the wealth, education and criminal record of the incumbent and the two main challengers in that jurisdiction. In a random sample of 200 slums, households received a pamphlet on legislator responsibilities and a free copy of a newspaper that featured the report card for their jurisdiction. Households in the 575 control slums did not receive any informational material.
Relative to control slums, we observe several significant changes in voter behavior in treatment slums. First, average voter turnout increased by 3.5 percent, or two percentage points (from 57.5% to 59.5%). Second, cash-based vote-buying was 19 percent less likely to occur in treatment polling stations. Third, while the campaign did not influence the average incumbent vote share, worse performing incumbents and those facing better qualified challengers received significantly fewer votes. The increases in turnout were relatively higher in treatment slums located in jurisdictions where the incumbent was a worse performer.

A similar study has been undertaken in Uganda, using the parliamentary scorecards, by Macartan Humphreys and Jeremy Weinstein. Results linking the scorecard to the most recent 2011 elections forthcoming. There are a number of other studies underway around the world looking at the relationship between information and voter behavior, but the findings are far from being universally conclusive.

Prof. Banerjee will be presenting at the Political Economy Faculty Seminar at the Stanford GSB tomorrow.

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