Exposing corruption can decrease voter turnout, researchers say

at 09:45 AM ET, 02/21/2012

Voters can become disillusioned and withdraw from the entire political process if there’s evidence of broad-scale corruption without the promise of further reform, according to a recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research:
A protester takes part on a rally in front of the anti-corruption court in Jakarta, Indonesia. (SOURCE: AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“We provide experimental evidence that information about copious corruption not only decreases incumbent support in local elections in Mexico, but also decreases voter turnout, challengers’ votes, and erodes voters’ identification with the party of the corrupt incumbent. Our results suggest that while flows of information are necessary, they may be insufficient to improve political accountability, since voters may respond to information by withdrawing from the political process. We conclude with a discussion of the institutional contexts that could allow increased access to information to promote government accountability...
If the exposure of rampant corruption leads voters to believe that voting will not benefit them (either because they lose trust in governments, or in their ability to respond to their constituents’ needs), then they will not bother to vote since the costs of casting a ballot would be bigger than the benefits.”

The paper goes on to explain that voters may pull their support from a corrupt candidate’s political party, but they won’t necessarily be mobilized to back the political opposition as a result.

(h/t Chris Blattman)

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