Value for Money? Vote-Buying and Politician Accountability

Value for Money? Vote-Buying and Politician Accountability

By
Jessica Leight, Dana Foarta, Rohini Pande, Laura Ralston
Journal of Public Economics. October
2020, Vol. 190

The prevalence of vote-buying is widely identified as a cause of poor governance in the developing world; potential mechanisms for this relationship include the selection of lower quality politicians, and the reduced accountability experienced by politicians once elected. In this paper, we present the first experimental evidence in support of the second channel of reduced accountability. Using data from laboratory experiments conducted in the U.S. and Kenya, we find that vote payments reduce voters’ willingness to hold politicians accountable: holding fixed politician identity, voters who receive payments are less willing to punish the politician for rent-seeking, and this reduction in punishment is larger in magnitude when payments are widely targeted. Unsurprisingly, the politician then engages in a higher level of rent-seeking. A simple model of multi-faceted social preferences encompassing reciprocity and inequality aversion is consistent with these findings.