This project explores whether giving voters information about candidates and policy facilitates more informed voting and greater electoral accountability. In the information poor environment of Sierra Leone, we use a set of randomized experiments to estimate the impacts of structured debates between Parliamentary candidates on voter knowledge and behaviour. We find evidence for strong positive impacts on general political knowledge, knowledge of candidate qualifications and policy stances; improved alignment between the policy preferences of voters and their selected candidate; greater voter openness to candidates from all parties; and increased vote shares for the candidate who performed the best during the debates. We further document an endogenous response by candidates, who increased their campaign effort in communities where videotapes of the debates were screened in public gatherings. A complementary series of treatment arms administered at the individual level unpacks the different types of information delivered by the debates, and finds evidence that voters respond to both candidate charisma and “hard facts” about policy stances and professional qualification.
Bidwell, K.; Casey, K.; Glennerster, R. The impact of voter knowledge initiatives in Sierra Leone (IGC Working Paper). International Growth Centre (IGC), London, UK (2013) 21 pp.