WP116: Do voters have different attitudes toward corruption? The sources and implications of popular perceptions and tolerance of political corruption


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Working papers
Chang, Eric and Nicholas Kerr

Political tolerance and political perceptions are analytically in distinguishable in current literature. In reality, however, individual attitudes toward political corruption are complicated and contingent on myriad factors . This paper makes an important conceptual distinction between perceptions and tolerance of corruption, and argues that voters form their attitudes toward corruption based upon their insider or outsider status. More specifically, we draw the distinction between insiders and outsiders along two dimensions: cost-benefit instrumentality and affective identity. The former refers to whether a voter belongs to the patronage network of the incumbent , and we posit that a patronage-insider is more tolerant of corruption and perceives corruption at a higher level compared to patronage outsiders. On the other hand, affective identity involves whether one shares a partisan or ethnic affiliation with the incumbent. Importantly, we argue that voters view corruption through the lens of identity, and that partisan and ethnic insiders are more likely to turn a blind eye to corruption. Finally, we argue that insiders’ electoral support of the incumbent is less affected by the consequences of corruption. We test our insider-outsider framework , as well as its implications for voting behavior, using recent Afrobarometer data on 18 sub-Saharan African democracies and find fairly strong evidence to support our hypotheses.