Corrupt politicians and electoral outcomes: Does exposure help?

Does information about political corruption increase electoral participation and the support for challenger parties? This is the question that J-PAL  asks in three recent impact studies they have carried out in Brazil, Mexico, and India. This J-PAL study is financed by the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation(3ie).

What would theory predict is the answer to this question? Offering more information to voters will enhance electoral accountability, and may lead voters to punish corrupt politicians. But does this lead to increased support for challengers? And what does this imply in terms of the characteristics of challengers that emerge?

The three experimental studies provide evidence that information about corruption decreases incumbent support in local elections in Mexico, and reelection of corrupt incumbent mayors in Brazil. In India, interestingly, it seems to have discouraged male incumbents to run, while female incumbents were more encouraged to do so.

Preliminary findings in India further indicate that the voter-information campaigns motivated more people to contest as candidates, and women in particular were more inclined to run for the election. In Brazil, active participation of local radio stations was shown to play an important role in enhancing political accountability and candidate selection.

On a more sober note, the Mexico study found that information about corruption led to a decrease in voter turnout, and increased the share of voters who do not identify with a political party. Thus, under some circumstances, information about corruption may disengage voters from the political process.

Written by the Evaluation Department, Norad

Published 23.12.2011
Last updated 16.02.2015