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Identity and political corruption: a laboratory experiment

Cubel, M. ORCID: 0000-0003-1502-1720, Papadopoulou, A. & Sánchez-Pagés, S. (2024). Identity and political corruption: a laboratory experiment. Economic Theory, doi: 10.1007/s00199-024-01589-2


This paper explores the role of identity in voters’ decision to retain corrupt politicians. We build up a model of electoral accountability with pure moral hazard and bring it to the lab. Politicians must decide whether to invest in a public project with uncertain returns or to keep the funds for themselves. Voters observe the outcome of the project but not the action of the politician; if the project is unsuccessful, they do not know whether it was because of bad luck or because the politician embezzled the funds. We run two treatments; a control and a treatment where subjects are assigned an identity using the minimal group paradigm. Our main result is that, upon observing a failed project, voters approve politicians of their same identity group significantly more often than in the control and compared to politicians of a different identity group. This is partially driven by a belief on same-identity politicians being more honest. We also observe that subjects acting as politicians embezzle funds less often than expected by the equilibrium prediction.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: Electoral accountability, Social identity, Lab experiment, Embezzlement, Corruption
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs
School of Policy & Global Affairs > Economics
SWORD Depositor:
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