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When and Why Do Voters Punish Corrupt Politicians?

Institutions & Governance Brazil

When do voters punish corrupt politicians? This study tests whether and under what circumstances information about corruption enhances accountability. Researchers use a field experiment in a mayoral election in Brazil, where both candidates were announced as corrupt by a reputable interest group. Results find that when voters were informed about the challenger’s record, turnout was reduced by 1.9%, while the opponent’s vote increased by 2.6%. However, no behavioral change occurred when voters were informed about the incumbent’s record. Authors attribute this difference to how corruption is seen by each candidate’s support base. From survey data, they find that the challengers’ supporters were more willing to punish their candidate for corruption than the incumbent’s supporters. This shows that even when multiple candidates are identified as corrupt, the consequences of information may vary by candidate. While publishing a candidate’s corruption record can alter voting behavior, its effect depends on the importance voters place on clean governance. More generally, voters can develop a non-universal “norm of accountability” that can interact with partisanship.

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