Economics External Seminar: Julien Labonne (Oxford)

1 October 2019, 1.00 PM - 1 October 2019, 2.00 PM

Julien Labonne (Oxford)

1B6, Priory Road Complex

Title: “Making policies matter: Voter responses to campaign promises” (with C. Cruz, P. Keefer and F. Trebbi)

Abstract: Do campaign promises matter? Despite pathbreaking work on information and voting, there is still uncertainty about how voters interpret and respond to campaign information, especially in consolidating democracies where policy promises are rarely the currency of electoral competition.

We use a novel approach combining a structural model with a large-scale field experiment to disentangle the effects of information through learning and psychological channels. We elicit multidimensional policy platforms from political candidates in consecutive mayoral elections in the Philippines and show that voters who are randomly informed about these promises rationally update their beliefs about candidates, along both policy and valence dimensions. Those who receive information about current campaign promises are more likely to vote for candidates with policy promises closer to their own preferences. Those informed about current and past campaign promises reward incumbents who fulfilled their past promises, as they perceive them to be more honest and competent.

The structural model shows that effects operate through both learning and psychological mechanisms. Treated voters update their subjective beliefs about candidates and increase the weight on policy issues in their utility function. Counterfactual exercises also demonstrate that policy and valence play a significant quantitative role in explaining vote shares and can attenuate the importance of vote buying. At the same time, although these campaign promises have a significant impact, we also show that vote buying is more cost effective than information campaigns, establishing a rationale for why candidates in these environments do not use them in practice

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