Does Corruption Information Inspire the Fight or Quash the Hope? A Field Experiment in Mexico on Voter Turnout, Choice, and Party Identification
Last registered on April 19, 2017

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Does Corruption Information Inspire the Fight or Quash the Hope? A Field Experiment in Mexico on Voter Turnout, Choice, and Party Identification
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0001973
Initial registration date
April 19, 2017
Last updated
April 19, 2017 2:45 PM EDT
Location(s)
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
University of Ottawa
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Princeton University
PI Affiliation
Yale University
PI Affiliation
Yale University
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
2009-06-29
End date
2009-07-15
Secondary IDs
Abstract
Retrospective voting models assume that offering more information to voters about their incumbents' performance strengthens electoral accountability. However, it is unclear whether incumbent corruption information translates into higher political participation and increased support for challengers. We provide experimental evidence that such information not only decreases incumbent party support in local elections in Mexico, but also decreases voter turnout and support for the challenger party, as well as erodes partisan attachments. While information clearly is necessary to improve accountability, corruption information is not sufficient because voters may respond to it by withdrawing from the political process. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our findings for studies of voting behavior.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Chong, Alberto et al. 2017. "Does Corruption Information Inspire the Fight or Quash the Hope? A Field Experiment in Mexico on Voter Turnout, Choice, and Party Identification." AEA RCT Registry. April 19. https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/1973/history/16699
Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
The PIs conducted a randomized field experiment to examine the effects of providing information about corruption and public expenditure on voting behavior in local elections in Mexico. One week prior to the 2009 municipal elections, the PIs randomly assigned 2,360 voting precincts to either a treatment, placebo, or control group. Treatment status was assigned using block randomization, stratified on municipality.

The treatment consisted of distributing flyers door-to-door in treatment precincts. The flyers were nonpartisan, tailored to each municipality, and contained publicly available information about the percentage of public funds spent in a corrupt or irregular way. The placebo treatment also consisted of door-to-door distribution of flyers, so that researchers would be able to differentiate the effect of the corruption information treatment from the effect of receiving a flyer. The placebo flyers contained information about the percentage of public funds spent in total and the percentage spent on services for the poor. The control group did not receive flyers.

The PIs found that the corruption information treatment had no effect on voters' perceptions of how corrupt or honest their municipal government was, except in cases where the exposed corruption was high, rather than moderate or low. Total turnout, turnout for the incumbent party, and turnout for the challenger party were all reduced, controlling for precinct poverty levels and turnout totals from the previous election. The PIs suggest that these findings indicate that information campaigns about corruption may cause voters to disengage from the political process, especially if a challenger candidate is perceived to be "low quality" and unable to withdraw from a corrupt environment.
Intervention Start Date
2009-06-29
Intervention End Date
2009-07-15
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Agree with the statement "Municipal government is dishonest"; Agree with the statement "Municipal government is honest"; Approve of Mayor; Unsatisfied with Public Service; Total turnout; Incumbent party votes; Challenger Party Votes
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
For each outcome variable, the PIs estimated two versions of the same general specification. In the general specification, the placebo group is the omitted group. This allows the regression coefficient on the treatment indicator to be interpreted as the effect of the corruption information treatment independent of the effect of receiving a flyer. All estimates include municipal fixed effects. For binary outcome variables, the PIs used a linear probability model. For turnout variables, the PIs calculated outcomes with regard to registered voters only. In addition, the PIs included a baseline poverty index at the precinct level and turnout from the previous election as controls for turnout outcomes.

In the first version, the PIs included linear and quadratic interactions between the treatment indicator and the proportion of public funds spent irregularly or corruptly in that precinct's municipality. In the second, the PIs included interactions between the treatment indicator and dummy variables indicating if the level of corruption that precinct's municipality was low, moderate, or high. Low levels of corruption were defined as 0% to 33% of public funds spent in a corrupt way, moderate levels were defined as 34% to 66% spent in a corrupt way, and high levels were defined as more than 66% spent in a corrupt way. The PIs also re-estimated all models without state capitals and where the failure-to-treat rate was high, in order to deal with spillover effects and noncompliance bias respectively. The results proved robust.

Data collection consisted of electoral results at the precinct level, census baseline demographic characteristics, an endline survey conducted 10 days after the municipal elections, and information on candidates' employment prior to the 2009 elections.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization performed in office by computer
Randomization Unit
Voting precinct, stratified by municipality in 3 Mexican states
Was the treatment clustered?
Yes
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
2360 voting precincts
Sample size: planned number of observations
2360 voting precincts
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
150 voting precincts in Corruption Information treatment group, 300 voting precincts in placebo treatment group, 1910 voting precincts in control group
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
Innovations for Poverty Action IRB - USA
IRB Approval Date
2009-06-16
IRB Approval Number
111.09June-002
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
Yes
Intervention Completion Date
July 15, 2009, 12:00 AM +00:00
Is data collection complete?
Yes
Data Collection Completion Date
July 15, 2009, 12:00 AM +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
2360 voting precincts
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
No
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
2360 voting precincts
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
150 voting precincts in Corruption Information treatment group, 300 voting precincts in placebo treatment groups, 1910 voting precincts in control group
Reports and Papers
Preliminary Reports
Relevant Papers
Abstract
Retrospective voting models assume that offering more information to voters about their incumbents' performance strengthens electoral accountability. However, it is unclear whether incumbent corruption information translates into higher political participation and increased support for challengers. We provide experimental evidence that such information not only decreases incumbent party support in local elections in Mexico, but also decreases voter turnout and support for the challenger party, as well as erodes partisan attachments. While information clearly is necessary to improve accountability, corruption information is not sufficient because voters may respond to it by withdrawing from the political process. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our findings for studies of voting behavior.
Citation
Alberto Chong, Ana L. De La O, Dean Karlan, and Leonard Wantchekon, "Does Corruption Information Inspire the Fight or Quash the Hope? A Field Experiment in Mexico on Voter Turnout, Choice, and Party Identification," The Journal of Politics 77, no. 1 (January 2015): 55-71.