The short-term effects of corruption are often evident. Many sources, both in Russia and in the West, consider the army’s rampant corruption to be one of the main causes of the logistical problems, low morale of the troops, and the Red Army’s massive losses in Ukraine. In late 2016, a corruption scandal cost the first elected woman president of an Asian country, South Korea’s Park Geun-hye, impeachment.
We can imagine that the continuation of “Qatargate”, a political scandal sparked by suspicions of bribery of some MEPs by the governments of Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania, could have immediate and troubling effects on the politicians involved, if found guilty. But what about the long-term damage to European institutions?
The Italian investigation Mani Polite (Clean Hands) which, between 1992 and 1994, exposed widespread corruption among Italian politicians, highlights that political corruption also has a long-term impact on trust in democratic institutions and voter behavior. This effect varies according to the age group of the individual, as first-time voters at the time of corruption exposure are still affected more than 20 years later.
A study recently published in Policy Journal By Arnstein Aassve, Gianmarco Daniele and Marco Le Moglie reminds us that 23% of national deputies and 75% of parliamentarians from the ruling Christian Democratic and Socialist parties were accused of corruption in those years and that the 1994 election campaign centered on this topic. Political corruption, which had been completely missing in Italian television news until then, became the most prominent topic in both television news and newspapers (nearly 90% of the front pages covered the scandal in 1993).
Using data from the Trustlab, an attempt coordinated by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to collect nationally representative data of political trust and beliefs in a comparative framework, the scientists found that first-time Italian voters in 1994 were 9% more likely to vote for populist parties in 2018 ( according to their self-reported behavior) and a low institutional trust score (i.e., trust in parliament, government, and civil servants). Their trust in bodies not immediately related to the clean hands scandal (police, media, financial institutions) and their social trust (trust towards other individuals) was not affected.
The effect is stronger for the less educated and the more exposed to television news in the regions hardest hit by the corruption scandal. Moreover, the impact was driven by the 2018 vote for the right-wing populist party Lega, while the vote for the left-wing populist party Movimento 5 Stelle was largely unaffected.
“Our study highlights the importance of informational political shock when resilience of beliefs and attitudes is higher, both because of the age of first-time voters and because eligibility to vote entails unprecedented exposure to politics and political news,” says Arnstein Aassve, professor of demography at Bocconi University.
Voters for the first time at the time of the scandal also indicated harsher attitudes toward immigrants and refugees in 2018, “suggesting,” the scholars write, a startling spillover effect, in which the harmful effects of corruption may not be limited to trust and voting, but may spill over into politics. supported by populist parties.
Gianmarco Daniele and Others, Never Forget the First Time: The Enduring Effects of Corruption and the Rise of Populism in Italy, Policy Journal (2022). doi: 10.1086/723019
Provided by Bocconi University
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