Competence Versus Trustworthiness: What Do Voters Care About?

67 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2014

See all articles by Fabio Galeotti

Fabio Galeotti


Daniel John Zizzo

University of Queensland - School of Economics

Date Written: March 14, 2014


Appointing public officials is an important feature of modern democracies. Citizens are periodically asked to select amongst different candidates whom they want to appoint as public officials in central or local governments. There may be a trade-off on the extent to which candidates are seen as competent versus the extent to which they are seen as trustworthy. In our experiment, we ask voters to select a public official, on the competence and trustworthiness of which their final payoffs depend. We measure the competence of candidates in a real effort task and their trustworthiness in a trust game, and provide this information to voters when they make their voting decision. By looking at cases where there is a competence-trustworthiness trade-off, we can then measure the extent to which competence and trustworthiness matter in electoral decisions. We find that, in general, most voters tend to select the candidate rationally, based on who provides the highest expected profit irrespectively of trustworthiness and competence, but there is a bias towards caring about trustworthiness when the difference in expected profits between the two candidates is small enough.

Keywords: trust game, competence, trustworthiness, election

JEL Classification: C72, C91, D72

Suggested Citation

Galeotti, Fabio and Zizzo, Daniel John, Competence Versus Trustworthiness: What Do Voters Care About? (March 14, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Fabio Galeotti

GATE, CNRS ( email )

93, chemin des Mouilles
Ecully, 69130

HOME PAGE: http://

Daniel John Zizzo (Contact Author)

University of Queensland - School of Economics ( email )

St Lucia
Brisbane, Queensland 4072

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