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44 CES Open Forum Series

Prejudice and Price: Corruption and Distributive Politics

Jul 7, 2021 Albana Shehaj


Political corruption is a critical impediment to the success of transitioning democracies, its persistence jeopardizing economic growth and delaying democratic development. Yet voters are unwilling to vote out corrupt parties in a consistent manner, even while they protest and express indignation at the pervasiveness of political corruption. This paper studies electoral backlashes against corruption by examining the link between corruption perceptions among voters and distributive policies incumbent parties use to assuage voter demand for electoral accountability. It presents a theory of “corruption compensation,” which stipulates that corrupt incumbents strategically target larger shares of government resources to regions where corruption perceptions are higher and voters can credibly threaten to withdraw their electoral support. Using original, subnational data from Albania, the paper shows that high corruption perceptions reduce incumbent support among voters, but resource provisions mitigate this effect. The findings supplement electorate-based theories of distributive policies and contribute to an emerging literature on the political economy of distributive politics.