Scholars argue that access to information about a politician’s programmatic performance helps voters reward (punish) good (poor) performers. But in clientelistic democracies, where resources are made conditional on electoral behavior, voters may not want to defect from voting for a clientelistic candidate if they do not believe that others will. We argue that two conditions must hold for information about politician performance to exercise its intended effect: voters must care about the information provided and believe that others in their constituency care as well. Experimental evidence from legislative elections in Benin reveals that voters rewarded good programmatic performance only when information was both accompanied by a civics message and widely disseminated within the electoral district. Otherwise, access to positive legislative performance information actually lowered incumbent vote share. These results demonstrate the joint importance of salience and voter coordination in shaping information’s impact and breaking the clientelistic voting equilibrium.
Funding: We thank EGAP (Evidence and Governance in Policymaking) for generous funding.