Why Do Malfeasant Politicians Maintain Political Support? Testing the 'Uninformed Voter' Argument
New York University
APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper
Repeated studies have shown that politicians in mature democracies accused of corruption are typically not punished at the polls. Existing explanations focus on rational trade-offs by policy-minded voters and institutionally-driven constraints. I analyze another factor: distribution of electorate's political awareness. A common regression approach likely suffers from bias due to potential underlying selection mechanisms. My identification strategy rests on a simple framework which shows that this bias is invariably downward, irrespective of the direction of the hypothesized effect. Less-informed voters are found to be significantly more likely to vote for incumbents accused of corruption relative to clean incumbents than their well-informed counterparts. An across-the-board increase in political awareness would systematically reduce the support for malfeasant incumbents. Results are not sensitive to omission of potential confounds, endogeneity of voter awareness to scandal occurrence, alternative measurement of incumbent support and voter information, variation in the nature of incumbent corruption, and parametric modeling assumptions.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 33
Keywords: Malfeasance, Political awareness, House, Senate, Elections
Date posted: August 1, 2011 ; Last revised: September 2, 2011