What Persuades Voters? A Field Experiment on Political Campaigning

54 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2012

See all articles by Jared Barton

Jared Barton

California State University, Channel Islands

Marco Castillo

Department of Economics, Texas A&M University; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Ragan Petrie

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics; University of Melbourne - Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research

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Date Written: June 18, 2012

Abstract

Political campaigns spend millions of dollars each voting cycle on persuading voters, and it is well established that these campaigns do affect voting decisions. What is less understood is what element of campaigning — the content of the message or the delivery method itself — sways voters, a question that relates back to how advertising works generally. We use a field experiment in a 2010 general election for local office to identify the persuasive mechanism behind a particular form of campaigning: candidate door-to-door canvassing. In the experiment, the candidate either canvassed a household or left literature without meeting the voters. In addition, the literature either contained information on the candidate or on how to vote. Our main results are that voters are persuaded by personal contact (the delivery method), but we find no evidence supporting the importance of messages in political persuasion. In our setting, personal contact seems to work, not through social pressure, as has been found in other research on persuasion, but by providing a costly or verifiable signal of quality.

JEL Classification: D72, C93

Suggested Citation

Barton, Jared and Castillo, Marco and Petrie, Ragan, What Persuades Voters? A Field Experiment on Political Campaigning (June 18, 2012). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 12-31. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2087135 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2087135

Jared Barton (Contact Author)

California State University, Channel Islands ( email )

One University Drive
Camarillo, CA 93012
United States

Marco Castillo

Department of Economics, Texas A&M University ( email )

Allen Building
4228 TAMU
College Station, TX 77843-3137
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Ragan Petrie

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics ( email )

4228 TAMU
College Station, TX 77843-4228
United States

University of Melbourne - Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research ( email )

Level 5, FBE Building, 111 Barry Street
Parkville, Victoria 3010
Australia

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