How Do Voters Respond to Information? Evidence from a Randomized Campaign
NBER Working Paper No. 18986
Rational voters update their subjective beliefs about candidates’ attributes with the arrival of information, and subsequently base their votes on these beliefs. Information accrual is, however, endogenous to voters’ types and difficult to identify in observational studies. In a large scale randomized trial conducted during an actual mayoral campaign in Italy, we expose different areas of the polity to controlled informational treatments about the valence and ideology of the incumbent through verifiable informative messages sent by the incumbent reelection campaign. Our treatments affect both actual vote shares at the precinct level and vote declarations at the individual level. We explicitly investigate the process of belief updating by comparing the elicited priors and posteriors of voters, finding heterogeneous responses to information. Based on the elicited beliefs, we are able to structurally assess the relative weights voters place upon a candidate’s valence and ideology. We find that both valence and ideological messages affect the first and second moments of the belief distribution, but only campaigning on valence brings more votes to the incumbent. With respect to ideology, cross-learning occurs, as voters who receive information about the incumbent also update their beliefs about the opponent. Finally, we illustrate how to perform counterfactual campaigns based upon the structural model.
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