Debates: Voting and Expenditure Responses to Political Communication

Debates: Voting and Expenditure Responses to Political Communication

By Katherine Casey, Rachel Glennerster, Kelly Bidwell
March 15,2019Working Paper No. 3066

Candidate debates have a rich history and remain integral to contemporary campaign strategy. There is, however, little evidence that they affect the behavior of voters or politicians. The scarcity of political information in the developing world offers an attractive testing ground. Using experimental variation in Sierra Leone, we find that public debate screenings build political knowledge that changes the way people vote, which induces a campaign expenditure response by candidates, and fosters accountability pressure over the spending of elected officials.  We parse the effects of information conveyed about policy versus charisma, and find that both are needed to change voter behavior.  The results show how political communication can trigger a chain of events that begins with voters and ultimately influences policy.