Do more informed voters elect more qualified candidates? Numerous studies of varying scale and context reveal mixed evidence. Evidence appears stronger for structural interventions and mass communication than for more targeted interventions.
Democracy is said to give citizens agency, as elections make it possible for them to remove poorly performing politicians. However, this only works if voters know how politicians are performing and are willing to base their vote on this information. This brief presents evidence on whether providing voters with better information on candidate performance affects their behaviour and strengthens electoral channels to better politician performance. Surprisingly, the evidence on the effects of information campaigns is very mixed.
Elections serve a dual purpose. They are both a periodic opportunity for voters to select good representatives, and a mechanism for incentivising politicians to act in the public interest. Both channels can link elections to better government performance, and ultimately, citizen welfare.
However, both these channels presuppose that voters possess information about the performance of politicians and use it to inform their vote. Hence, many democracy promotion initiatives entail programmes designed to improve the quality of information available to voters. Whether such efforts are effective is of relevance for both research and policy.
Intuitive as it may first appear, the logic linking better information to better political performance is not so straightforward. Indeed, the empirical evidence supporting it is mixed, as presented in this brief.
- There are good reasons why more informed voters might not punish poor performing politicians or reward high performing ones. Information may not be believed. If believed, it might not change opinions as many other factors inform voter choice. Politicians react strategically, which can nullify information effects.
- Evidence on the effectiveness of information interventions on voter actions is mixed and weaker than expected. There is a consistently weak effect of providing voters with information in private settings.
- Official information disseminated via media may be especially effective in supporting accountability processes. Information campaigns may be too small to generate effects during electoral campaigns. Larger gains are seen from media interventions.
- Electoral debates may be effective, especially for broadening knowledge about politicians. Debates can affect voter decisions and appear powerful in exposing voters to different candidates. Whether voters reward quality is less clear.
- The effects of information provision are sensitive to local context. New, credible, well-timed information that is salient to voter welfare appear to have the greatest effects. Political context also matters.