Do voters hold politicians accountable for vote-buying?


Published 20.10.21

When voters receive payments, politicians are given greater leniency, and in turn steal more

Read “Value for money? Vote-buying and politician accountability” by Jessica Leight, Dana Foarta, Rohini Pande, and Laura Ralston here.

Despite the prevalence of vote-buying across many developing countries, there is little empirical evidence around how buying votes affects politicians’ performance or accountability once in office. In this VoxDevTalk, Jessica Leight discusses her recent work with co-authors Dana Foarta, Rohini Pande, and Laura Ralston in which they test how voters respond to vote-buying. They create a series of voting games whereby some voters receive payments from a politician, and then measure voters’ willingness to punish politicians for siphoning money from a common treasury. 

The authors find that voters who receive payments allow politicians to steal more, and that politicians do steal more once votes are bought. Acceptability towards corruption was highest when all voters received payments, but when only some voters received payments, those who didn’t were much more likely to hold politicians accountable for stealing. Their results show that incentives do exist for politicians to steal, particularly when the costs of buying votes is small compared to the potential gains of stealing once in office.