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Democracy and Voter Preferences
Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022
3:45 PM - 5:45 PM (EST)
American Economic Association
Making Policies Matter: Voter Responses to Campaign Promises
Can campaign promises change voter behavior, even where clientelism and vote buying are pervasive? We elicit multidimensional campaign promises from political candidates in consecutive mayoral elections in the Philippines. 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 promises are more likely to vote for candidates with policy promises closest to their own preferences. Those informed about current and past campaign promises reward incumbents who fulfilled their past promises; they perceive them to be more honest and competent. However, voters with clientelist ties to candidates respond weakly to campaign promises. A structural model allows us to disentangle information effects on beliefs and preferences by comparing actual incumbent vote shares with shares in counterfactual elections: both effects are substantial. Even in a clientelist democracy, counterfactual incumbent vote shares deviate more from actual shares when policy and valence play no role in campaigning than when vote-buying plays no role. Finally, a cost benefit analysis reveals that vote-buying is nevertheless more effective than information campaigns, explaining why candidates do not use them.
(Successful) Democracies Breed Their Own Support
We provide evidence using several different strategies that individuals that have been exposed to democratic institutions for longer tend to support democracy more. This is true when we exploit the different histories of democracy that the same age group in different countries or different age groups in the same country are exposed to, and it is also true when we exploit the variation for the same age group within the same country. We find similar results when we look at the differential exposure to democracy for immigrants coming from different home countries at different points in their lives, and when we adopt an instrumental-variables strategy exploiting regional democratization waves. In all cases, the timing and the nature of the effects are consistent with a causal interpretation. We also establish that all of the effects we estimate work through exposure to successful democracy—meaning that individuals become more likely to support democracy when their past experience of democracy is associated with good economic performance, peace and political stability and public services, but not otherwise.
Persistent Polarizing Effects of Persuasion: Experimental Evidence from Turkey
I analyze the electoral effects of randomly assigned information campaigns implemented before a referendum on weakening constraints on the executive in Turkey. Using administrative electoral data, I show that voter responses to identical information campaigns increased policy polarization over the referendum and partisan polarization in presidential, general, and local elections over the next two years. The evidence supports the claim that in a setting where voters disagree on whether strengthening the state is a good policy, combating censorship can backfire. I conclude that because information campaigns have both positive and negative effects, their impact on civil society is underestimated.
Populist Leaders and the Economy
Populism at the country level is at an all-time high, with more than 25% of nations currently governed by populists. How do economies perform under populist leaders? We build a new cross-country database identifying 50 populist presidents and prime ministers 1900-2018. We find that the economic cost of populism is high. After 15 years, GDP per capita is more than 10% lower compared to a plausible non-populist counterfactual. Rising economic nationalism and protectionism, unsustainable macroeconomic policies, and institutional decay under populist rule do lasting damage to the economy.
Cevat Giray Aksoy
King’s College London
Harvard Business School
P1 - Capitalist Systems
D7 - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making