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The Lesser Evil? Corruption Voting and the Importance of Clean Alternatives

Journal article
Authors Mattias Agerberg
Published in Comparative Political Studies
ISSN 0010-4140
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Political Science
Language en
Keywords corruption voting, electoral accountability, survey experiment
Subject categories Political Science


Surveys show that citizens in all parts of the world have a strong distaste for corruption. At the same time, and contrary to the predictions of democratic theory, politicians involved in the most glaring abuse of public office often continue to receive electoral support. Using an original survey experiment conducted in Spain, this article explores a previously understudied aspect of this apparent paradox: the importance of viable and clean political alternatives. The results suggest that voters do punish political corruption when a clean alternative exists, even when the corrupt candidate is very appealing in other respects. However, when only given corrupt alternatives, respondents become much more likely to tolerate a candidate accused of corruption—even when given a convenient “no-choice” option. I discuss how these results can help us understand corruption voting and why some societies seem to be stuck in a high-corruption equilibrium. © The Author(s) 2019.

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