Informing voters doesn’t shape political behavior or ensure accountability


How does providing information to voters affect political behavior and preferences? From India to Mexico to Uganda, the answer remained the same: It doesn’t. The combined data revealed no significant results from information provided in the weeks leading up to an election, writes analyst Catherine Cheney:

The findings are the results of the first cluster of studies from the Metaketa Initiative. Metaketa is the Basque word for accumulation, a reference to the way these grantmaking rounds supporting coordinated research at different sites that can result in a consolidation of knowledge. EGAP launched the initiative with funding primarily from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and additional support from an anonymous donor, in one of a growing number of efforts to ensure that the proliferation of randomized control trials, or RCTs, in development economics actually strengthens the research foundations on which policy innovations rest.

“We were surprised to learn that providing information to voters didn’t have the effects that we anticipated, but given the consistency of the results across six studies, we feel much more confident that the aggregate results aren’t due to chance or bad luck,” said Susan Hyde, executive director of Evidence in Governance and Politics, or EGAP, a network of researchers and practitioners dedicated to bringing evidence to policy. “Overall, the process has reinforced my belief that collaboration between international development practitioners and researchers is more critical than ever to better understand what works and why.”

The findings confirmed what many democracy and governance practitioners have observed in transitioning countries, that information in and of itself does not lead to political accountability, said Linda Stern, director of monitoring, evaluation and learning at the National Democratic Institute.

“It served to put an exclamation point on the idea that exposure to information alone is not enough to change citizens’ political preferences and behaviors,” she told Devex. “This has important implications for democracy assistance programs, such as voter-education, candidate debates, anti-corruption campaigns, policy advocacy etc. The findings suggest that information needs to be complemented by other program elements and understood within the broader political economy.”


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