Do they really care? Social desirability bias in attitudes towards corruption

New article by Sofia Breitenstein, Eva Anduiza, and Jordi Muñoz published in Research & Politics.

Direct estimates based on election returns show that corruption is mildly punished at the polls. A large majority of survey respondents, however, often tend to state that they do not like corruption and will not support corrupt politicians. This has been interpreted as a product of social desirability bias: interviewees prefer to report socially accepted attitudes (rejection of corruption) instead of truthful responses (intention to vote for their preferred candidates regardless of malfeasance). We test to what extent this is the case by using a list experiment that allows interviewees to be questioned in an unobtrusive way, removing the possible effects of social desirability. Our results show that the great majority of respondents report intentions to electorally punish allegedly corrupt candidates even when asked in an unobtrusive way. We discuss the implications of this finding for the limited electoral accountability of corruption.