Does Corruption drive more or less people to the ballot box? It’s not that simple.. sadly!

Corruption At Elections

Credit to: Andreas Bågenholm, Stefan Dahlberg & Maria Solevid of the University of Gothenburg

It’s been a chaotic year for elections, with the micro-state of Liechtenstein taking us of with their presidential election back on the 5th of February, we’ve so far seen elections within the UK, France &South Korea and will see elections further elections this year in;  Germany, & Chile. Elections are a time in many countries where citizens can sometimes be heard the loudest. We get to have a say on the direction of our countries and to seek to have issues addressed that concern us most. 

But what are elections without a strong, robust turnout? They tend to lead to stagnation in public discourse and result in little change – and as with many elections that feature corruption as a prominent issue its time to take a look at how corruption can influence an election – or more specifically how it affects turnout.  We will look at whether politicizing corruption negatively or positively affects voter turnout (with a little help from the folks at The Quality of Government Institute at the University of Gothenburg)

What may seem unsurprising to many is that countries that have higher perceived levels of corruption are associated with lower voter turnout – we’ve all heard the mantra, “why vote – nothing will change” people who feel a sense of exasperation and despondency with a system are unlikely to want to or feel respected enough to engage with it’s institutions. This thread is common enough in terms of how we approach corruption as a topic, an issue that is deeply rooted in power imbalances within a state or society,  for example  it is unlikely that the institutions built through that power structure will challenge it with any integrity.

This lack of engagement with politics and democracy is corrosive, it’s impact on political systems results in increasingly cynical, distrustful and apathetic voters. Those who promise to shake up this system embolden the sense that politics is a rigged game that needs rattling. If left untreated by practical policy solutions and left unaddressed in political campaigns its effect can be increasingly damaging. We can see this with examples from around the world with regards to outsiders challenging a system and their being outside the system serving as a strong pull factor for citizens to engage with their platform. 

However, within the research conducted by the team at the Quality of Government Institute in Gothenburg there shines a positive light for many anti-corruption activists, that a high perception of corruption can actually be used to strengthen democracies, if parties are willing to engage substantively with the issues which concerns voters – it can actually increase people’s willingness to participate in elections.

The issue of corruption being dealt within in the public sphere by policymakers is vital, not only due to reasons of self-preservation relating to capitalising on disenfranchised voters, but because the alternative of voters being ignored or sidelined on dealing with corruption has a corrosive effect on democracy and democratic participation that’s effects are felt when authoritarians capitalise on the issue of using corruption to acquire power – we need real engagement and real solutions to deal with corruption being presented to allow democracy’s to flourish.


What do you think?



  • This article doesn’t mention the United States elections and I know there are some other articles that do discuss the US elections. I have actually ran for office in 2014. I ran for the Texas House of Representatives on the Libertarian Party ticket. I raised Zero money and spent Zero money, but yet was sued by the Texas Ethics Commission for not filing a report and filing one report late civil court and they were awarded a $13,600 judgement. They also filed a criminal case for the same report which was dismissed after I filed the report. I saw first hand the corruption involved with campaign finance and it is out of control. People don’t just donate money, especially sums like $5,000, $10,000 or more just because they like you. If I were to accept that kind of money I would feel that I owe that person or PAC. The thing I found that is highly questionable is the money spent on “Consultants”. It is amazing how much of the campaign funds get spent on them. Then I found out that they have paid volunteers, which makes no sense. The biggest thing I saw is how the main two parties, the Democrats and Republicans, keep third parties from being allowed to the debates. In Dallas, Texas there was a debate for Texas Governor candidates at the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS-13) Channel 13 television station, which denied third party candidates to participate. This is a channel funded by the Public so it was frustrating to see. Some one said when we went to the “secret” ballot it opened the door to corruption and I can see that. There again voting which allows the majority to “Rule” is corrupt. When someone forces their will on another it is wrong, but yet governments do it all the time. I am going to close with the idea of using the new technology of the “BlockChain” in the voting process. It is something I have been hearing about and it sounds like an option. #Freedom4All

  • N. Slater says:

    How perceived corruption in politics effects voter turnout in the US and Canada is understood to be a result of voter suppression tactics. One side of the political spectrum uses voter suppression tactics that are negative, typically being those with conservative values. They focus their message on voters with the highest likelihood of voting for the progressive option (women, youth, minorities) and that message is designed to be viewed negatively. Peeling off the layers one can see why this is almost exclusively a conservative tactic that only adversely effects progressive voters. There is still ongoing confusion amongst progressive campaigners as to how they can effectively counter negative tactics. A prime example was the election of the most recent US President, who constantly uses negative framing and tactics to dissuade progressives from being involved and voting.

    The secret for progressives is hidden in modern cognitive science, a science that has been taken seriously by the advertising/marketing world for almost a century now and that the US conservative movement implemented for themselves beginning in 1970. Suffice to say, the current US President is a marketing savant who intuitively understands that rational thought is by far, the lessor of our intelligence, contrary to what Descartes convinced us to believe when he said we live in the age of “enlightenment reason”.

    The original question of this article is correct and although the answer is not simple it is in plain sight thanks to the brilliant cognitive linguist, George Lakoff.

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