Value for Money in Buying Votes? (2016)

Vote-buying and Voter Behavior in the Laboratory

Principal Investigators:

Vote-buying is extremely common in developed and developing countries: politicians use a range of tools, from covert or complex to simplistic and blatant, to attempt to purchase votes in democracies around the world. Vote-buying endangers the validity of election results; undermines public trust in the democratic system; and negatively affects post-election politics, government accountability, and public perceptions of that accountability. But how does vote-buying influence individual voter behavior? Does vote-buying change what candidate the voters select on election day? Does it change voters’ tolerance of other corrupt behavior demonstrated by the vote-buying politician. In this paper, a research team led by Williams College analyzed how people respond to vote payments in a laboratory setting in a developed and a developing country (United States and Kenya, respectively). Key findings include:

  • If subjects knew that vote payments were being distributed, but did not receive a payment, they were less forgiving of the politician’s choice to expropriate a common resource and less likely to vote for the politician—implying that exposing or publicizing vote-buying may meaningfully alter its effectiveness.
  • If subjects received a vote payment and knowingly consented to receive it, they were more forgiving of the politician’s choice to expropriate and more likely to vote for the politician; however, if they received the payment and did not consent to receive it, their behavior did not change significantly.