Knowledge or ignorance? Assessing the causal effects of disclosure on vote choice

Abstract

Fine-grained information about campaign finance is abundant in the American political system. But do these disclosures affect vote choice? Existing studies on the effects of disclosure tend to focus on voter perceptions, few explicitly test the robustness of disclosure to partisan signals, and none have compared the effects of disclosure across representative and direct democratic elections. This paper addresses these outstanding issues by implementing a series of conjoint experiments that jointly assess the effects of disclosing campaign finance information across types of election and varying levels of political information. I find that when partisan cues are not primed, participants do use various features of a candidate’s financial profile to influence their vote choice. When these partisan signals are explicit, however, the effects of describing a campaign’s financial profile on vote choice drop away. In ballot initiative contexts, I find similar results: in the presence of explicit policy choices, vote choice is not affected by disclosure.

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