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Elections and Embezzlement: Experimental Evidence from Burkina Faso

48 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2016 Last revised: 31 Mar 2017

Malte M. Lierl

Yale University

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 3, 2016

Abstract

Can democratic elections reduce rent extraction by public decision makers? Existing research suggests that reelection incentives can reduce the embezzlement of public funds. This paper examines three additional mechanisms through which democratic elections could have an impact on embezzlement, even in the absence of reelection incentives: (1) electoral selection effects, (2) social norms and norm enforcement, and (3) citizens' trust in decision makers. Evidence from an experiment with 472 groups of citizens in rural Burkina Faso suggests that electoral selection favors benevolent candidates. Furthermore, elections increase citizens' \emph{willingness} to punish corrupt decision makers, even if their \emph{ability} to do so remains unchanged. However, these beneficial effects of elections are offset by an unexpected adverse effect: Elections cause citizens to trust decision makers more than they should be trusted. These findings have important implications for the role of information in electoral democracy.

Keywords: Elections, Corruption, Democracy, Experiment

JEL Classification: C92, C93, D72, D73, H00

Suggested Citation

Lierl, Malte M., Elections and Embezzlement: Experimental Evidence from Burkina Faso (August 3, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2817417 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2817417

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