VOTING FOR CORRUPTION: WHEN DO VOTERS SUPPORT CORRUPT POLITICIANS?
McNally, Darragh Charles
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This dissertation explores the determinants of when voters are willing to support corrupt politicians. The first paper presents a unique survey experiment that asks respondents to choose between pairs of politicians who have different ideological positions, and are accused of corruption. The survey goes some way toward recreating the tradeoffs one makes when voting in the real world. Results show that voters are more likely to choose corrupt politicians who agree with their position on an issue when issue salience is high. Results also show that institutional trust decreases the likelihood of choosing a corrupt politician, while perceptions of corruption increase the likelihood. Institutional trust and perceptions of corruption also have a modifying effect on issue salience. The second paper uses several datasets to test the effects of several mechanisms on the likelihood of a person voting for Silvio Berlusconi. Taking Berlusconi as the archetypal corrupt yet electorally successful politician I show that social norms that justify corruption in one’s peer group extend to voting and increase the likelihood of supporting Berlusconi. I find that perceptions of political corruption have an effect on the likelihood of supporting Berlusconi, and that this effect is not constant over time. I also find that trust in the judiciary has no effect on the likelihood of supporting Berlusconi – contrary to Berlusconi’s claims of persecution by the judiciary – and that trusting the institution of television has a strong effect on the likelihood of voting for Berlusconi. The third paper uses a unique survey experiment to measure changes in the support of voters for corrupt politicians. Results show that context matters, with voters’ sensitivity to corruption being shaped by the type of political post held by politicians and the overall corruption in the political system. Experimental results show that voters are more forgiving of acts of corruption among higher ranked politicians in executive politicians, when corruption is common. Overall, I provide evidence showing that voters are often willing to support corrupt politicians, and that transparency alone will have a limited effect in increasing the likelihood that corrupt politicians will be punished electorally.