BOOK MANUSCRIPT The Failures of Electoral Accountability for Corruption: Brazil and Beyond
My main line of research sheds light on why corrupt politicians survive democratic elections. Existing explanations attribute the lack of accountability for corruption to the low salience of the problem in voters’ minds, treating corruption just like any other electoral issue. I argue that, unlike other electoral issues, corruption possesses some specificities that make it an issue thought of by voters with cynicism, an attitude characterized by the belief that all politicians and political parties are equally incompetent in dealing with corruption. When voters perceive corruption to be a constant among candidate options, they are likely to overlook this aspect of government performance and base their vote on different issues. My research also suggests that cynicism becomes a more prevalent attitude among voters in countries where corruption is more widespread. The arguments developed and tested in this study portray political corruption as a cyclical problem, since they predict that accountability for corruption will be weaker when it is needed the most. This research relies on a multi-method approach that brings together quantitative and qualitative data from Brazil as well as a broader set of countries. The account offered here helps promote a better understanding of how accountability for corruption actually works and suggests that holding a government accountable for corruption may be a difficult task.