Undercutting information backlash in the field:
Political polarization and municipal government accountability during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico
Political polarization, by distorting how citizens process objective information about government performance, can undermine electoral accountability. We study whether citizens in a highly polarized environment can be nudged to become receptive to incorporating information about government performance in their electoral behavior. We supported a local NGO to design and implement a field experiment that exposed some Mexican citizens, via targeted Facebook ads, to benchmarked information about COVID-19 cases and deaths in their municipality prior to the 2021 elections. In municipalities with high relative levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths, the information had a backlash effect, increasing both turnout and the fraction of the vote received by the local incumbent party. A randomly assigned anti-polarization treatment, however, more than obviated the backlash. In the anti-polarization condition, information about high relative levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths translated into a lower fraction of the vote for the incumbent. Our findings show that it is possible to convey objective information even in contexts with a high propensity for motivated reasoning and other psychological processes of informational distortion.
Joint with José Ramon Enriquez, Horacio Larreguy and John Marshall.