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Does Deceptive Advertising Reduce Political Participation? Theory and Evidence

  • Daniel Houser

    ()

    (Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science and Department of Economics, George Mason University)

  • Sandra Ludwig

    ()

    (LMU Munich)

  • Thomas Stratmann

    ()

    (Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science and Department of Economics, George Mason University)

We examine the effect of deceptive advertising on voting decisions in elections. We model two-candidate elections in which 1) voters are uncertain about candidates' attributes; and 2) candidates can inform voters of their attributes by sending advertisements. We compare political campaigns with truthful advertising to campaigns in which there is a small chance of deceptive advertising. Our theoretical model predicts that informed voters should act on the information contained in the advertisement. Thus, even in deceptive campaigns, informed voters should either vote for the candidate from whom they received an advertisement or abstain from voting; they should never vote for the opposing candidate. We test our model in laboratory elections, and, as predicted, find higher participation among informed voters in elections that allow only for truthful advertisement than in elections that permit deceptive advertising. Contrary to our theoretical predictions, we find substantial differences in voting behavior between truthful and deceptive campaigns. When faced with a small probability of deception, informed voters in deceptive campaigns vote for the candidate who did not send an advertisement, thereby making sub-optimal voting choices. Even when there is only a small chance that an advertisement is deceptive, voters are more likely to elect the candidate who generates less welfare.

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File URL: http://www.gmu.edu/schools/chss/economics/icesworkingpapers.gmu.edu/pdf/1011.pdf
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Paper provided by George Mason University, Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science in its series Working Papers with number 1011.

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Length: 53 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:gms:wpaper:1011
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  1. Matsusaka, John G, 1995. "Explaining Voter Turnout Patterns: An Information Theory," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 84(1-2), pages 91-117, July.
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  8. Battaglini, Marco & Morton, Rebecca & Palfrey, Thomas R., 2006. "The Swing Voter’s Curse in the laboratory," Working Papers 1263, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  9. Andrea Prat, 2002. "Campaign Advertising and Voter Welfare," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(4), pages 999-1017.
  10. Matthew Gentzkow, 2006. "Television and Voter Turnout," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(3), pages 931-972.
  11. Stephen Coate, 2004. "Pareto-Improving Campaign Finance Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 628-655, June.
  12. Thomas Stratmann, 2005. "Some talk: Money in politics. A (partial) review of the literature," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 124(1), pages 135-156, July.
  13. David Dreyer Lassen, 2004. "The Effect of Information on Voter Turnout: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," EPRU Working Paper Series 04-03, Economic Policy Research Unit (EPRU), University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  14. Potters, J.J.M. & Sloof, R. & van Winden, F.A.A.M., 1997. "Campaign Expenditures, Contributions and Direct Endorsements : The Strategic Use of Information and Money to Influence Voter Behavior," Discussion Paper 1997-27, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  15. Marco Battaglini & Rebecca B. Morton & Thomas R. Palfrey, 2008. "Information Aggregation and Strategic Abstention in Large Laboratory Elections," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 194-200, May.
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