Priors Rule: When Do Malfeasance Revelations Help or Hurt Incumbent Parties?

52 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2018

See all articles by Eric Arias

Eric Arias

College of William and Mary

Horacio Larreguy Arbesu

Harvard University

John Marshall

Columbia University - Department of Political Science

Pablo Querubin

New York University (NYU) - Department of Politics

Date Written: August 2018

Abstract

Effective policy-making requires that voters avoid electing malfeasant politicians. However, as our simple learning model emphasizing voters’ prior beliefs and updating highlights, informing voters of incumbent malfeasance may not entail sanctioning. Specifically, electoral punishment of incumbents revealed to be malfeasant is rare where voters already believed them to be malfeasant, while information’s effect on turnout is non-linear in the magnitude of revealed malfeasance. These Bayesian predictions are supported by a field experiment informing Mexican voters about malfeasant mayoral spending before municipal elections. Given voters’ low expectations and initial uncertainty, as well as politician responses, relatively severe malfeasance revelations increased incumbent vote share on average. Consistent with voter learning, rewards were lower among voters with lower malfeasance priors, among voters with more precise prior beliefs, when audits revealed greater malfeasance, and among voters updating less favorably. Furthermore, both low and high malfeasance revelations increased turnout, while less surprising information reduced turnout.

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Suggested Citation

Arias, Eric and Larreguy Arbesu, Horacio and Marshall, John and Querubin, Pablo, Priors Rule: When Do Malfeasance Revelations Help or Hurt Incumbent Parties? (August 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w24888, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3226840

Eric Arias (Contact Author)

College of William and Mary ( email )

P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23185
United States

Horacio Larreguy Arbesu

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

John Marshall

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

7th Floor, International Affairs Bldg.
420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

Pablo Querubin

New York University (NYU) - Department of Politics ( email )

New York, NY
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/pabloquerubin/

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