Does Deceptive Advertising Reduce Political Participation? Theory and Evidence
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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