Do candidate debates strengthen democracy? A field experiment on the effects of debates on voter behaviour and electoral accountability
Candidate debates are currently held in over 60 countries around the world. Increasingly, they are being held in developing countries with financial support from international democracy-promotion organisations on the grounds that they strengthen democracy. In developing democracies, debates have the potential to provide valuable information to citizens on the character and policy positions of politicians. Despite the increasing prevalence of candidate debates, there is almost no causal evidence that debates influence voter preferences and voter attitudes towards democracy, especially outside of the US context.
This project seeks to help fill this gap and involves a unique opportunity to conduct a field experiment on the impact of parliamentary debates that are being held in the run-up to Ghana’s general elections on 7th December 2016. In collaboration with the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD), a leading civil society organisation in Ghana that is organising debates ahead of the 2016 elections, we will randomise individual voter’s exposure to debates. To measure the direct effect of debates, we will compare the vote preferences and attitudes to vote buying and violence of about 2,000 citizens who are randomly exposed (or not) to debates in their constituency. We will employ survey techniques to measure voter preferences.