Political Awareness, Microtargeting of Voters, and Negative Electoral Campaigning

45 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2012 Last revised: 2 May 2017

Burkhard C. Schipper

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics

Hee Woo

University of California, Davis

Date Written: May 2, 2017


In modern elections, ideologically motivated candidates with a wealth of information about individual voters and sophisticated campaign strategies are faced by voters who lack awareness of some political issues and are uncertain about the exact political positions of candidates. We study to what extent electoral campaigns can raise awareness of issues and unravel information about candidates' political positions. We allow for microtargeting in which candidates target messages to subsets of voters. A candidate's message consists of a subset of issues and some information on her political position in the multi-dimensional policy subspace spanned by this subset of issues. The information provided can be vague, it can be even silent on some issues, but candidates are not allowed to bluntly lie about their ideology. Every voter votes for the candidate she expects to be closest to her but takes into account only the subspace spanned by the issues that come up during the campaign. We show that any prudent rationalizable election outcome is the same as if voters have full awareness of issues and complete information of policy points, both in parliamentary and presidential elections. We show by examples that these results may break down when there is lack of electoral competition, when candidates are unable to use microtargeting, or when voters have limited abilities of political reasoning. Allowing for negative campaigning restores the positive results if voters' political reasoning abilities are limited. It can even be achieved with just public campaign message in the presidential elections while parliamentary elections still require microtargeting of voters.

Keywords: Electoral competition, multidimensional policy space, microtargeting, dog-whistle politics, negative campaigning, ideological candidates, presidential elections, parliamentary elections, persuasion games, verifiable information, unawareness, framing, prudent rationalizability, forward-induction

JEL Classification: C72, D71, P16

Suggested Citation

Schipper, Burkhard C. and Woo, Hee, Political Awareness, Microtargeting of Voters, and Negative Electoral Campaigning (May 2, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2039122 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2039122

Burkhard C. Schipper (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics ( email )

One Shields Drive
Davis, CA 95616-8578
United States
530-752-6142 (Phone)
530-752-9382 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/schipper/

Hee Woo

University of California, Davis ( email )

One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616
United States

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