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Strategic government communication about performance

Justin de Benedictis-Kessner

Political Science Research and Methods, 2022, vol. 10, issue 3, 601-616

Abstract: A great deal of research presents the correspondence between economic conditions and incumbent electoral fortunes as evidence of democratic accountability. A central theoretical mechanism for this phenomenon is that voters have information about performance. Using communications data consisting of more than 110,000 government press releases from cities in the US combined with fine-grained economic and crime data, I leverage the breadth of local variation in conditions to assess the inputs to this mechanism behind accountability. I provide causal evidence that government communication changes as a result of performance in a strategic manner: local politicians are more likely to communicate about both economic conditions and crime when performance is improving—better wages and less crime—than when performance is worse. These findings add direct evidence from the underutilized area of local politics that politicians strategically communicate in a way that threatens accountability.

Date: 2022
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