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Campaign Cost and Electoral Accountability

  • Carlo Prato and Stephane Wolton

The increasing cost of political campaigns and its impact on the electoral process are issues of paramount importance in modern democracies. We propose a theory of electoral accountability in which candidates choose whether or not to commit to constituency service and whether or not to pay a campaign cost to advertise their platform. A higher campaign cost decreases voter welfare when partisan imbalance is low. However, when partisan imbalance is high, a higher campaign cost is associated with a higher expected level of constituency service. More costly campaigns can thus have a rebalancing effect that improves electoral accountability. We discuss the implications of our findings for campaign finance regulation and present empirical evidence consistent with our key predictions.

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Carlo Prato, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Economics and Government Departments, Georgetown University, 305K ICC 3700 O St NW, Washington DC 20057 ( Stephane Wolton, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Government, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK ( The authors would like to thank two anonymous referees, Mike Bailey, Aditya Bhave, Peter Buisseret, Chris Berry (who also graciously shared the data with authors), Chris Cotton, John de Figueredo, Alex Hirsch, Navin Kartik, John Patty, Mattias Polborn, as well as seminar and presentation participants at Princeton, Georgetown, IAS, APSA, MPSA and SPSA for their helpful comments. Neil Christy provided excellent research assistance. C.P. gratefully acknowledges the support of the Hoover Institution. The data on political advertising were obtained from a project of the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project includes media tracking data from TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group in Washington, DC. The University of Wisconsin Advertising Project was sponsored by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project or The Pew Charitable Trusts. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

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Political Science Research and Methods
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