In-Group Loyalty and the Electoral Consequences of Corruption

April 29, 2017

Catherine De Vries opened her keynote lecture at the EPCS Annual Meeting by noting that 6 out of 7.4 billion people lived in a country with a serious corruption problem in 2015. When asked, people say that they are concerned about corruption. Conventional wisdom suggests that elections curb corruption because these same people will vote against corrupt candidates. There is evidence, however, that voters tolerate – even condone – corruption when it is practiced by candidates with whom they share a group identity. “Why are corrupt politicians re-elected by some of the same voters who say they don’t like corruption?” asked De Vries.

De Vries cited the Bárcenas Scandal in Spain (related to members of the ruling People’s Party and their use of Swiss bank accounts) as a particularly compelling example of this phenomenon. Even after the scandal broke and had been widely reported in El País, the People’s Party remained the largest political party in Spain. De Vries detailed the laboratory experiments that she and colleagues constructed to carefully control the settings in which voters make decisions as well as the information and benefits they receive. Their conclusion: that voters are willing to overlook corruption when they feel a strong pull towards their in-group, even when information is readily available and there is no policy benefit.

You can watch a recording of the April 19 keynote address that De Vries made during the 2017 meeting of the European Public Choice Society at CEU in Budapest, Hungary below.