Key message 1 – There are good reasons why more informed voters might not punish poor performing politicians or reward high performing ones
There are good reasons why providing information to voters might not result in better representatives or better performance by representatives.
- Information is not believed or absorbed. Voters may dismiss new information if it goes against their beliefs, if they mistrust the source, or if they cannot understand it (Lord et al. 1979, Adida et al. 2019). Information may also lose its bite if neutralised by counterarguments made by political actors (Humphreys and Weinstein 2012).
- Even if believed, information might not change opinions as expected. If voters have strong positions, information might not affect political beliefs (Redlawsk et al. 2010). Furthermore, sometimes voters respond to information in surprising ways. For example, information that a politician has a criminal record could be taken as evidence that they can get things done (Vaishnav 2017). Learning about politicians’ poor performance could produce a broader disillusionment with politics, as seems to have happened in Mexico (Chong et al. 2015).
- Many other factors influence voter choice. Even if information affects beliefs about politician quality, it may have no effects on electoral behaviour if other concerns dominate in voters’ minds: for instance, partisanship, ethnic identity, patronage, or fear (Boas, Hidaldo and Melo 2018, Liaqat et al. 2018).
- Politicians react strategically to information campaigns and can nullify their effects. One response to bad press is to improve performance. But there are many others, for example, investing in vote-buying. In Cruz, Keefer,and Labonne (2018), politicians in the Philippines reacted to voter disappointment over poor performance by stepping up vote-buying activities, neutralising any effect of critical information. Another strategy is to stop information from reaching voters, as happened in India (Chauchard and Sircar 2019), or to time malfeasance with an eye to the electoral cycle (Bobonis et al. 2016).
Overall, while the logic that more information will result in changes in voting behaviour seems plausible at first, there are plenty of reasons why it might not work in practice.