How Much Corruption Do Voters Perceive in Different levels of Government?

By André Blais, Professor at Université de Montréal,
& Elisabeth Gidengil, Professor at McGill University,
& Anja Kilibarda, Graduate student at Université de Montréal

What is the story

Every year, Transparency International publishes ratings of countries based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. The rating is based on the judgments of analysts, business people and experts in the various countries. In the 2012 rating, Denmark had the highest score (least corruption) and Somalia had the lowest (most corruption). This is how ‘experts’ view the situation. But what about ordinary citizens?

Perceived corruption in Canada and Europe

As part of the Making Electoral Democracy Work project, we have conducted surveys in 10 regions within five countries, and each survey included the following question : « Would you say that there is hardly any corruption, a little corruption, some corruption, or a lot of corruption in the present xx government? » The question distinguishes the various levels of government : municipal, regional (state/provincial), national (federal), and supranational (European Union).

Thanks to the survey, we can see whether voters agree with the experts about the degree of corruption in their country. We can also see whether perceptions vary across regions within the same country and whether people perceive similar levels of corruption at different levels of government.

The graphs below show the average level of perceived corruption in each country and region for each level of government. We have given a score of 10 for ‘a lot of corruption’, 6.7 for ‘some corruption’, 3.3 for ‘a little corruption’, and 0 for ‘hardly any corruption’. The median score for the 38 ‘cases’ is 6, and the most frequent response is ‘some corruption’.1

Among the five countries included in our analysis, Switzerland has the most honest government according to the Transparency International experts (ranked 6th overall in the world) and Spain’s is the most corrupt (ranked 30th). Not surprisingly, voters perceive corruption levels in the national government to be lowest in Switzerland and highest in Spain. What is more surprising is that in France, which is ranked 22nd by Transparency International, much lower than Canada (9th) or Germany (13th), voters’ judgments are relatively positive.

The other pattern that emerges is that voters are inclined to see more corruption at higher levels of government. Municipal governments are perceived to be relatively honest while the European Union is judged to be the most corrupt… except in Spain.
There are also some interesting differences between regions in the same country. The most striking is the gap between Quebec and Ontario in Canada. The government that is evaluated as the most corrupt of all is the Quebec provincial government. In fact, Quebec voters are even more negative about their government than Catalonians are toward the Spanish government!

The next step in our research is to better understand how these judgments are formed and how they affect vote choice and electoral outcomes.

Figures: Perceptions of Corruption in Canada and Europe
(click on the pictures to enlarge)

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  1. The surveys were conducted at the time of the 2012 Quebec election, the 2011 Ontario election, the 2013 German election, the 2013 Bavaria election, the 2013 Lower Saxony election, the 2011 Spanish election, the 2012 Catalonia election, the 2011 Swiss election, the 2011 Lucerne election, the 2011 Zurich election, and the 2012 French election. In some cases (Germany, Switzerland, and Catalonia) we have measures for two different elections and the graphs present the average for these two elections. 

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