Key message 5 – The effects of information provision are sensitive to contextual conditions

Multiple studies suggest that the effects of information provision on vote choice are sensitive to contextual details.

  • Information that is new and credible. Citizens may be more likely to use incumbent performance information to inform their vote when the information updates their prior beliefs. We should therefore only expect effects when voters deem information to be both new and credible. For example, information that an incumbent is corrupt is not likely to have much effect if everyone already believes the incumbent is corrupt.
  • Information that is salient to welfare. Citizens are more likely to use performance information when they can see a connection to their welfare. Some research suggests that information about politicians’ performance should be accompanied by civic education that explains politicians’ responsibilities and how their performance can affect citizen welfare (Grossman and Michelitch 2018, Adida et al. 2019).
  • Collectively shared information. Citizens’ responses likely depend on what information they believe other voters have available to them. Under many models of accountability, citizens need to coordinate around common evaluative criteria. Performance information that has been disseminated in public rather than private settings may better facilitate within-village coordination (Bidwell, Casey, and Glennerster 2019, Adida et al. 2019).
  • Well timed information. The timing of citizen receipt of performance information may matter. For instance, voters could be more likely to use information that has been learned more recently (Healy and Lenz 2014). This may explain why Puerto Rican mayors reduce levels of corruption when audited in the year prior to elections but not when audited in the year following elections (Bobonis, Fuertes, and Schwabe 2016).
  • Independent voters. The effect of information plausibly decreases with the strength of partisan attachment. This may be due to the well-known problem of confirmation bias (Redlawsk, Civettini, and Emmerson 2010) or because voters might place a high premium on voting for a member of their group (common in places where parties are organized on tribal or ethnic basis).
  • Genuine democratic competition. In more authoritarian contexts, greater information might generate costs with none of the benefits (Malesky, Schuler, and Tran, 2012).

We emphasise, however, that most of these insights about the conditions for information to be effective are supported by general theoretic intuitions or by single studies and few of these claims have been subjected to repeated testing.