Informed Electoral Accountability and the Welfare State: A Conceptual Reorientation with Experimental and Real-World Findings
Retrospective electoral accountability was conceived as a mechanism that makes democracy work without highly informed citizens. However, recent theory suggests accountability in modern societies can be overwhelmingly complex. Using this controversy as a backdrop, I make one conceptual and one empirical contribution. Conceptually, I promote a notion of “informed electoral accountability” that challenges assumptions made in much democratic theory and empirical research on retrospective voting. Empirically, I examine some implications concerning citizens’ policy outcome evaluations in the welfare state domain. How much do they know about outcomes? Do outcome evaluations change when exposed to comprehensive performance information? Using a panel study conducted during the 2006 Swedish election campaign I gauge knowledge levels, as well as effects of survey-embedded information experiments and real-world TV election coverage. Knowledge is found to be initially modest but citizens can learn and evaluations change as a result of comprehensive performance information. As such information is often biased or lacking altogether, however, accountability is not necessarily enlightened and conducive to good representation.
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