Ewen Gallic : ewen.gallic[at]univ-amu.fr
Avner Seror : avner.seror[at]univ-amu.fr
Political polarization, by distorting how citizens process objective information about government performance, can undermine electoral accountability. We study whether citizens in a highly polarized environment can be nudged to become receptive to incorporating information about government performance in their electoral behavior. We supported a local NGO to design and implement a field experiment that exposed some Mexican citizens, via targeted Facebook ads, to benchmarked information about COVID-19 cases and deaths in their municipality prior to the 2021 elections. In municipalities with high relative levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths, the information had a backfiring effect, increasing the fraction of the vote received by the local incumbent party with relatively high levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths. A randomly assigned anti-polarization treatment, however, reversed the backfiring . In the anti-polarization condition, voters rewarded incumbents with relatively low levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The backfiring effect is driven by areas with high past vote share for the incumbent, higher shares of citizens with communal values, and behavior indicative of more stressed citizens. Our findings show the potential for nudges to enable the communication of objective information even in polarized contexts with high levels of mistrust and heightened emotions.