Crossing Party Lines: The Effects of Information on Redistributive Politics
This paper explores how the quality of information available to voters influences the choices they make in the polling booth and in turn affects the strategies of political parties competing for their support. To do so, the paper builds a model of redistributive politics under asymmetric information and then tests the resulting propositions with data from recent elections in Sierra Leone. Using the Lindbeck and Weibull (1987) model as a foundation, I incorporate a new determinant of voting choice--candidate quality--which is only imperfectly observed by voters. I show that voters with better information about candidates are more likely to cross ethnic party lines to support a high quality candidate. Furthermore, since information encourages voters to consider characteristics like candidate charisma that are difficult for parties to observe, it makes party forecasting of expected vote shares more uncertain. Such electoral uncertainty in turn induces parties to spread their resources more evenly across jurisdictions. Two institutional attributes of the empirical setting--ethnicity-based politics and decentralization--enable direct tests of these informational propositions as well as a novel identification strategy for the classic swing voter hypothesis. My results suggest that information could break the low accountability equilibrium in which citizens cast their votes blindly along partisan lines, creating little incentive for political parties to invest in candidate quality or provide resources to areas outside the most tightly contested jurisdictions.
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