DEBATES: Voter and Political Response to Political Communication in Sierra Leone

75 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2015

See all articles by Kelly Bidwell

Kelly Bidwell

Innovations for Poverty Actions

Katherine Casey

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Rachel Glennerster

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics

Date Written: August 24, 2015

Abstract

Candidate debates have a rich history, offer a unique communication forum, and have become integral to contemporary campaign strategy. There is, however, no definitive evidence of whether they affect actual voting behavior. The relative scarcity of political information in the developing world offers an attractive testing ground, where the effects of debates could be larger and more directly linked to electoral outcomes. We experimentally manipulate citizen exposure to debates in Sierra Leone to measure their impacts on, and the interconnections among, voter behavior, campaign spending, and the performance of elected politicians. We find positive impacts on citizen political knowledge, policy alignment, openness to candidates, and votes cast on Election Day. We then document an endogenous response by participating candidates, who increased campaign expenditure in communities where debate videos were screened in large public gatherings. Over the longer term, we find that debate participation enhanced the subsequent accountability of elected Parliamentarians, who demonstrated greater constituency engagement and development expenditure over their first year in office. To explore mechanisms, individual treatments disentangle the effects of general political knowledge from the information conveyed about candidate persona, and find that both matter. The results speak to the central political economy question of whether elections effectively discipline politicians, and show how political communication – via interparty debates – can trigger a chain of events that ultimately influences policy.

JEL Classification: D72, D83, O17

Suggested Citation

Bidwell, Kelly and Casey, Katherine and Glennerster, Rachel, DEBATES: Voter and Political Response to Political Communication in Sierra Leone (August 24, 2015). Stanford University Graduate School of Business Research Paper No. 15-50. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2658750 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2658750

Kelly Bidwell

Innovations for Poverty Actions ( email )

1731 Connecticut Ave, 4th floor
Washington, DC 20009
United States

Katherine Casey (Contact Author)

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Rachel Glennerster

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

E53-320
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

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