Political Polarization and Municipal Government Accountability during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Mexico
December 8, 2021
Seminar Series on Democracy, Conflict, & Polarization: Political Polarization and Municipal Government Accountability during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Mexico
Political polarization can undermine electoral accountability by distorting how citizens process objective information about government performance. In the second event of the Democracy, Conflict, and Polarization Seminar Series, we presented results from a field experiment conducted prior to the 2021 Mexican legislative elections measuring the impact of social media campaigns on electoral behavior in a highly polarized environment.
The panel discussion featured researchers José Ramón Enríquez (Harvard University) and Alberto Simpser (ITAM), along with implementing partner Mónica Meltis, Executive Director of Data Cívica. Data Cívica is a civil society organization that provides training on technological tools and open data to promote transparency and citizen participation. We discussed the effectiveness of interventions to communicate objective information, even in polarized contexts with high levels of mistrust and heightened emotions.
Information about very good or very bad performance elicits strong reactions from the electorate. The direction of the reaction depends on whether or not we provide the anti-polarization message.
In the absence of the anti-polarization message, in municipalities with high levels of cases or deaths citizens both turn out at a higher rate and reward the incumbent (backlash effect).
In the presence of the anti-polarization message, the backlash effect not only disappears; it is reversed. In this case, citizens punish high levels of cases or deaths at the polls, and turnout does not increase with respect to controls.
Although, on average, none of the treatments affected the outcome, the study found a robust positive average effect on both turnout and incumbent party vote share based on specific variations on the ad and precincts.
Accountability based on performance information may be importantly undermined by political polarization, as citizens are reluctant to incorporate negative information about copartisans or positive information about opponents.
Cost-effective informational interventions with the capacity to boost democratic accountability exists
Watch the full presentation and Q&A below. After viewing the recording, please post a comment or question at the bottom of the page to participate in an ongoing discussion on this topic.If you prefer to download/listen to it as a podcast, click here.
José Ramón Enríquez is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Political Economy and Government at Harvard University. His interests lie in the political economy of development and comparative economic development. Specifically, he has worked on the causes and effects of political dynasties in democracies, the role of information and electoral brokers in improving political accountability, and the link between crime/violence and democratic representation/public good provision.
Alberto Simpser is Professor of Political Science at ITAM in Mexico City, and faculty affiliate at ITAM’s Center for Economic Research (CIE) and Center for Energy and Natural Resources (CIERN). His research examines major problems in the political economy of development. He holds a PhD degree in political science and an MA degree in economics from Stanford University, as well as a B.Sc. degree in environmental engineering sciences from Harvard College.
Mónica Meltis, is the Executive Director, of Data Cívica, a civil society organization, working in the defense of human rights using technology and science. Previously, she conducted research on human rights violations such as enforced disappearance in México and public health and violence against in-risk population. Mónica holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations from Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM).
Founded in Mexico in 2015, Data Cívica trains governments, civil society organizations, practitioners, and journalists in the use of technological tools and open data to promote more transparency and citizen participation.
Jessica Gottlieb is an Associate Professor at the Hobby School of Public Affairs at University of Houston. She earned her PhD in political science and Master’s degree in economics from Stanford University. Her research investigates constraints to democratic accountability in low-income countries; these include information asymmetries and problems of voter coordination, informal institutions and clientelism, and unequal gender norms.