Cover of "Value for Money in Purchasing Votes?"

Value for Money in Buying Votes?

Vote-buying and Voter Behavior in the Laboratory

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Principal Investigators:

Vote-buying is extremely common in developed and developing countries: politicians use a range of tools, from covert or complex to simplistic and blatant, to attempt to purchase votes in democracies around the world. Vote-buying endangers the validity of election results; undermines public trust in the democratic system; and negatively affects post-election politics, government accountability, and public perceptions of that accountability. But how does vote-buying influence individual voter behavior? Does vote-buying change what candidate the voters select on election day? Does it change voters’ tolerance of other corrupt behavior demonstrated by the vote-buying politician. In this paper, a research team led by Williams College analyzed how people respond to vote payments in a laboratory setting in a developed and a developing country (United States and Kenya, respectively). Key findings include:

  • If subjects knew that vote payments were being distributed, but did not receive a payment, they were less forgiving of the politician’s choice to expropriate a common resource and less likely to vote for the politician—implying that exposing or publicizing vote-buying may meaningfully alter its effectiveness.
  • If subjects received a vote payment and knowingly consented to receive it, they were more forgiving of the politician’s choice to expropriate and more likely to vote for the politician; however, if they received the payment and did not consent to receive it, their behavior did not change significantly.



Research Publication (7.51 MB, PDF)

DFG Project Description
Through the USAID-funded Democracy Fellows and Grants (DFG) program, IIE brings research, innovation, and expertise to support USAID’s development work in the sector of democracy, human rights, and governance (DRG). Through the Democracy Fellows component, IIE manages experts in niche DRG disciplines who are embedded within USAID bureaus and offices to provide direct support to USAID’s work in their technical specialties. Through the Research and Innovation Grants component, IIE manages the production and publication of research—including the reports featured here as part of IIE’s democracy research series—that brings new learning, evidence, and knowledge to USAID to influence decisions about program design in the DRG sector.