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The Effect of Media on Voters: Field Experiment at the
Moscow Mayoral Elections.
Maxim Mironov, Alexandra Petrachkova*
This paper studies the effect of negative campaign at the 2013 Moscow mayoral election. The
newspaper which criticized the incumbent mayor was distributed near the entrances of randomly
selected 20 metro stations during 4 weeks prior the election date. We find that the incumbent
mayor got 1.48% less votes at the voting stations located near the points of newspaper
distribution. Next, we document the evidence that weekend distribution has 2.4 bigger effect on
votes compared to the working day distribution. Finally, we find that the evening distribution is
about two times more effective than the morning distribution.
JEL classification: D72, L82, P26
Keywords: Elections, Negative campaign, Political economy, Transitional Economy,
Media, Voting behavior.
* This paper has benefited significantly from suggestions by Juan Pedro Gmez, Garen Markarian, Paolo
Porchia, Marco Trombetta, and seminar participants at the IE Business School.
IntroductionDoes the media affect voting behavior? A large body of evidence suggests that the media
plays an important role in political outcomes. However, most of the existing evidence comes
from established democracies with stable political system and competitive media market. One of
a few exceptions is an important paper by Enikolopov, Petrova, and Zhuravskaya (2011) which
analyzes the impact of the only independent federal channel NTV on the results of the 1999
parliamentary elections in Russia. The authors provide evidence that exposure to alternative
point of view significantly decreases the vote for the government party, increases the combined
vote for major opposition parties, and decreases the turnout.
Our paper expands the evidence of how the media affects the voting behavior in emerging
democracies. We design a fully randomized field experiment to measure the effect of negative
campaign on voting behavior. One month prior to the 2013 Moscow mayoral election we
published the newspaper that criticized policies of the incumbent mayor. We handed out around
130 000 of the newspaper copies near the entrances of randomly selected 20 metro stations. At
each station we distributed the newspaper either in the morning or in the evening, either during
working days or on weekends, either in a color version or in a black and white. Then we
compared the election results at the voting stations where the newspaper was distributed with the
results at those stations where the newspaper was not distributed.
This paper makes three contributions to the literature. First, we show that negative
campaign has a significant impact on voting behavior. The newspaper decreased the percentage
of votes for the incumbent mayor by 1.48 percentage points. Second, the effect of the weekend
distribution is 2.4 times larger than the effect of the working day distribution. Finally, it is two
times more efficient to hand out the newspapers during the evenings compared to the mornings.
The main goal of our paper is to analyze how negative campaign affects the voting
preferences. We published a newspaper which criticized the incumbent mayor, Sergei Sobyanin.
The newspaper articles discussed alleged corruption of the city government. To design our field
experiment, we took all metro stations in Moscow and excluded the stations located outside
Moscow and the stations within the metro circle line. We excluded central stations because a
significant portion of people who use these metro stations are not locals. Many office buildings,
shopping centers, and tourist attractions are located in the center. Thus, the effect of the
newspaper at these stations might be diluted. These selection criteria lead to the main sample of
116 metro stations. To create a treatment sample where our newspaper was distributed we also
excluded metro stations with adjacent bus or train stations. The majority of people who use these
stations are not local, thus the effect of the newspaper cannot be measured. Next, we randomly
selected two pairs of adjacent metro lines. We hired two managers to supervise distributors, so
the choice of adjacent lines was necessary to facilitate their job. The first pair of lines was Blue
West and Dark-blue West, the second pair of lines was Dark-blue East and Red North-East. For
each of 20 stations in our treatment sample we randomly assigned 3 variables: a) color or black
and white version of the newspaper, b) evening or morning distribution, and c) working days or
Next, we identify 15 closest voting stations to each metro station located no further than 2
kilometers from the metro station. We divide them into three groups: the closest 5 voting
stations, from 6th to 10th closest stations, and from 11th to 15th closest stations. Our final
sample includes 1485 voting stations and the treatment sample includes 233 voting stations. As a
baseline for our analysis we take the 2012 presidential election which was held 18 months prior
the Moscow mayoral elections. We find no statistically different results in voting behavior
between the entire and treatment sample. We use the results of the presidential elections as
control variables in our empirical analysis.
Our first important result is that our newspaper decreased the votes for Sobyanin by 1.48
percentage point. This effect decreases with the distance from a metro station where the
newspaper was distributed. The effect at the 5 closest voting stations is -1.89%, the effect at the
6-10th closest voting stations is -1.24%, and the effect at the 11-15th closest voting stations is -
0.77% (statistically insignificant). This result is not surprising. People who live further from
metro stations are less likely to use the metro system for commuting. Thus, the probability that
they receive our newspaper decreases with the distance from metro. On average, our negative
campaign decreased the number of votes for Sobyanin by 10.17 votes at every voting station
participated in the experiment. The total effect is estimated as minus 2,369 votes for Sobyanin.
Who got these votes lost by the incumbent mayor? Three out of five competing candidates
benefited from our campaign. Mitrokhin (Yabloko, liberals) got additional 0.66% at the voting
stations where the newspaper was distributed, Navalny (Peoples alliance, liberals) got +0.55%
and Melnikov (Communist Party) got +0.31%.
Finally, we analyze which ways of the newspaper distribution are more efficient. We find
no difference in the results between color and black and white version of the newspaper.
However, given the higher printing costs of a color version, it is more cost efficient to distribute
black and white newspaper. The weekend distribution is more efficient than the distribution on
working days. The effect of the weekend distribution is minus 2.44% of votes for Sobyanin, and
the effect of the working day distribution is -1.07%. We also find that it is more efficient to
distribute in the evenings compared to the mornings. The effect of the morning distribution is a
0.96% decrease in votes for Sobyanin while the effect of the evening distribution is a 1.88%
Our research contributes to a growing literature which analyzes the effects of news media
on political behavior. The earlier media studies used data from surveys to measure the
association between a reported media exposure and political views. For example, White et al.
(2005) find strong correlations between specific media slant and viewers political attitudes.
However, this research design may give biased results because individuals seek information in
accordance with their specific political views. Recent contributions to the literature employ
natural experiments (Enikolopov, Petrova, and Zhuravskaya (2011) and field experiments
(Gerber et al (2009)) to measure media effects on voting preferences.
This paper is also related to the literature that measures the impact of negative campaigning
on election results for a target, her competitors, and the turnout. Lau and Pomper (2004) analyze
negative campaigns for the Senate elections in the US from 1992 to 2002 and find that although
they have no affect on the overall stability of political system, they are not an effective strategy
to gain votes. As for the turnout, Ansolabehere and Iyengar (1995) found that negative
campaigns demobilize voters, although later studies show that voters are actually more resilient
to negativity than they were previously thought to be (Brooks, 2006).
This paper also contributes to the literature that studies the right timing for political
communication. Some researchers study the timing of voting decision from voters perspective
(Fournier et al., 2004) in order to understand responsiveness to a campaign. Others measure
effectiveness of message delivery depending on its proximity to the election day (Nickerson,
(2007), Panagopoulos (2010)).
The paper proceeds as follows. Section 1 describes analyti