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Making Policies Matter: Voter Responses to Campaign Promises


  • Cesi Cruz
  • Philip Keefer
  • Julien Labonne
  • Francesco Trebbi


Can campaign promises change voter behavior, even where clientelism and vote buying are pervasive? We elicit multidimensional campaign promises from political candidates in consecutive mayoral elections in the Philippines. Voters who are randomly informed about these promises rationally update their beliefs about candidates, along both policy and valence dimensions. Those who receive information about current promises are more likely to vote for candidates with policy promises closest to their own preferences. Those informed about current and past campaign promises reward incumbents who fulfilled their past promises; they perceive them to be more honest and competent. However, voters with clientelist ties to candidates respond weakly to campaign promises. A structural model allows us to disentangle information effects on beliefs and preferences by comparing actual incumbent vote shares with shares in counterfactual elections: both effects are substantial. Even in a clientelist democracy, counterfactual incumbent vote shares deviate more from actual shares when policy and valence play no role in campaigning than when vote-buying plays no role. Finally, a cost benefit analysis reveals that vote-buying is nevertheless more effective than information campaigns, explaining why candidates do not use them.

Suggested Citation

  • Cesi Cruz & Philip Keefer & Julien Labonne & Francesco Trebbi, 2018. "Making Policies Matter: Voter Responses to Campaign Promises," NBER Working Papers 24785, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:24785
    Note: DEV PE POL

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    Cited by:

    1. Haaland, Ingar & Roth, Christopher & Wohlfart. Johannes, 2020. "Designing Information Provision Experiments," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1275, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    2. Casas, Agustin, 2020. "The electoral benefits of unemployment, clientelism and distributive politics," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 129(C).
    3. Wayne Aaron Sandholtz, 2022. "The politics of policy reform: experimental evidence from Liberia," NOVAFRICA Working Paper Series wp2202, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Nova School of Business and Economics, NOVAFRICA.
    4. Mahambare, Vidya & Dhanaraj, Sowmya & Mittal, Pragati, 2022. "The political budget cycles in the presence of a fiscal rule: The case of farm debt waivers in India," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 44(3), pages 701-721.
    5. Dreher, Axel & Fuchs, Andreas & Hodler, Roland & Parks, Bradley C. & Raschky, Paul A. & Tierney, Michael J., 2019. "African leaders and the geography of China's foreign assistance," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 140(C), pages 44-71.
    6. Caroline Le Pennec, 2020. "Strategic Campaign Communication: Evidence from 30,000 Candidate Manifestos," SoDa Laboratories Working Paper Series 2020-05, Monash University, SoDa Laboratories.
    7. Caroline Le Pennec & Vincent Pons, 2019. "How Do Campaigns Shape Vote Choice? Multi-Country Evidence from 62 Elections and 56 TV Debates," NBER Working Papers 26572, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • P16 - Political Economy and Comparative Economic Systems - - Capitalist Economies - - - Capitalist Institutions; Welfare State

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