Policy recommendations

Overall, the evidence in this area is weak and inconsistent. Besides the need for more research designed to provide cumulative evidence for more targeted policy questions, there are a number of takeaway messages from this body of work.

  • Keep expectations modest. Interventions that seek to improve accountability mechanisms by releasing information directly to voters may not have strong effects.
  • Focus on structural information campaigns. The strongest effects of information campaigns have been found from those that include media market structures or government auditing procedures. This suggests that interventions – and the study of interventions – may be more effective if targeted at such structural features rather than small scale campaigns around elections.
  • Be attuned to political context and distributive effects. The effects of interventions depend heavily on the context and the strategic responses available to politicians. If effective, providing information around election time will generally not be a neutral activity, even if done in a formally nonpartisan way. Thus, in the absence of clear evidence of benefits, ethical considerations are important in deciding whether to engage in these interventions at all. One approach is to ensure that interventions are supported by political actors from opposing sides before proceeding, or consult respected public body with bipartisan support.