Blog Political Science and Public Administration

Eva Anduiza (UAB), Aina Gallego (CSIC), Jordi Muñoz (AUB)

 

Not only politicians, but citizens also have a double standard when judging seriousness of corruption: we are more tolerant when corruption affects us. This perceptual partisan bias is more important within the Popular Party (PP) supporters than the Spanish Workers’ Socialist Party (PSOE) supporters. The bias disappears when citizens have high levels of political knowledge. The reaction of the catalan party Unió Democràtica to the Pallerols case and the Popular Party to the Gürtel case has revealed a worrying new tolerance for corruption, particularly as it affects “our sympathisers”.  Tolerance is normally attributed to politicians, who surely have a non negligible share of responsibility.

 

But what about citizens? In this analysisbased on a survey experiment we show that there is a double standard when judging similar cases of corruption, depending only on whether the alleged corrupt is or is not a political party with which we sympathise. Figure 1 reflects this difference. The assessment of the seriousness of a hypothetical case of corruption is significantly higher when the affected party is not ours (dark bar) than when it is our party (light bar).

 

Graph 1. Perceived seriousness of the same corruption case depending on whether the affected belongs to the same party as the respondent (sameparty), the main opponent party (differentparty), or the affected party is unknown(neutral).

 

The data also tell us that not all supporters have the same degree of double standards. According to figure 2 the difference is much greater amongst PP supporters than amongst PSOE supporters. It seems that this is due to individual characteristics of PP supporters (in the multivariate analysis this was controlled), but we could speculate that the actual cases of corruption could have the effect of accentuating the "double standards".

 

Graph 2. Perceived seriousness of the same corruption case depending on whether the affected belongs to the same party as the respondent (same), the main opponent party (other), or the party is unknown(neutral) distinguishing between PP supporters and PSOE supporters.

 

Finally, the data show that the double standard disappears when people have medium to high levels of political knowledge (Figure 3).

 

Graph 3. Perceived seriousness of the same corruption case depending on whether the affected belongs to the same party as the respondent (same), the main opponent party (other), or the party is unknown(neutral) for low levels of political knowledge (lowknowledge), medium low (med-low), medium high (med-high) and high (highknowledge)

 

The encouraging side of these results is that high levels of political information lead to a significant reduction of tolerance towards corruption affecting one’s party. The parties affected by recent scandals may also be interested to know that the main mechanism that protects this relative tolerance seems to be the "implicit exchange”: good management and fundraising in exchange for a limited electoral punishment for the corrupt. Some studies have shown that punishment on the valuation of governments resulting from corruption is accentuated in contexts of economic crisis. It would therefore be desirable and expected that tolerance might decrease in the current social and economic context.