Norms versus Action: Why Voters Fail to Sanction Malfeasance in Brazil


In this paper, we show that Brazilian voters strongly sanction malfeasant mayors when presented with hypothetical scenarios but take no action when given the same information about their own mayor. Partnering with the State Accounts Court of Pernambuco, we conducted a field experiment during the 2016 municipal elections in which the treatment group received information about official wrongdoing by their mayor. The treatment has no effect on self-reported voting behavior after the election, yet when informing about malfeasance in the context of a vignette experiment, we are able to replicate the strong negative effect found in prior studies. We argue that voters’ behavior in the abstract reflects the comparatively strong norm against corruption in Brazil. Yet on election day, their behavior is constrained by factors such as attitudes toward local political dynasties and the greater salience of more pressing concerns like employment and health services.

American Journal of Political Science