As Turkey’s corruption scandal continues to evolve and claim the jobs of more members of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, it is worth pausing to consider the reaction of Turkish voters. After all, one reason Erdogan is likely to have accepted the resignations of members of his cabinet is because he is concerned about the effect of the scandal on voters in future elections. Is this a legitimate concern?
In recently published research in the journal Electoral Studies, New York University politics PhD candidate Marko Klašnja and I used two survey experiments to examine the effect of corruption on voting behavior in a high corruption country (Moldova) and a low corruption country (Sweden). In both cases, respondents were asked how they would expect a citizen to vote in an election for a hypothetical mayor and were provided with two pieces of information. The first piece of information concerned whether economic conditions had improved or gotten worse in the mayor’s city; the second concerned allegations of either corrupt behavior in the city or actions on behalf of the mayor to fight corruption.
The results were illuminating. In Sweden, our “low corruption” country, voters punished the mayor for corruption regardless of the state of the economy. In Moldova, however, voters punished the mayor for corruption only when the economy was also bad. When economic conditions had improved, however, voters appeared less concerned about corruption.