Accountability and information in elections

Scott Ashworth, Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, Amanda Friedenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Elections are thought to improve voter welfare through two channels: effective accountability (i.e., providing incentives for politicians to take costly effort) and electoral selection (i.e., retaining politicians with characteristics voters value). We show that there may be a trade-off between these two channels. Higher levels of effective accountability may hinder the voters' ability to learn about the politicians. In turn, this may hinder electoral selection and be detrimental to voter welfare. This is because increasing effective accountability directly impacts how informative governance outcomes are about an incumbent's type. We show that, if politicians' effort and type are local substitutes (resp. complements) in the production of governance outcomes, an increase in effective accountability corresponds to a decrease (resp. increase) in Blackwell (1951) informativeness. We also show that effective accountability can vary even absent institutional variation. In particular, we provide necessary and sufficient conditions for there to be multiple equilibria that differ in terms of both effective accountability and electoral selection. Overall, our findings have implications for voter behavior, the efficacy of institutional reforms, and voter welfare.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-138
Number of pages44
JournalAmerican Economic Journal: Microeconomics
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)


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