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Experimental Approach to Explore the Origins of Corruption

Institutions & Governance Zambia

Does office-holding corrupt politicians or do corrupt politicians tend to obtain office? This study identifies behavioral choices that are linked to corruption by conducting controlled experiments with over 140 local politicians in Zambia. Using a regression discontinuity design, the research finds that holding office has a significant effect on how politicians strategically behave. Specifically, holding office causes politicians to display higher altruistic reciprocity levels at the electoral margin, contrary to the hypothesis which posited a negative correlation. Findings do not identify a significant effect of holding office on politicians’ level of generalized trust. In combination, these results indicate that holding office may cultivate a culture of trading favors, a behavior that can be linked to both corruption and other reciprocal interactions, such as passing policy.

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