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The Conditionality of Vote-Buying Norms: Experimental Evidence from Latin America


  • The authors gratefully acknowledge the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University, and the University of Notre Dame for providing funding for the surveys. They would also like to thank Victoria Murillo and Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.


Anti-vote-buying campaigns led by NGOs and political elites denounce the practice as a crass economic transaction detrimental to democracy. Do potential clients stigmatize vote buying to the same degree, or does the mass public have a more conditional view of the acceptability of vote buying? We theorize that normative evaluations of vote buying vary based on individuals’ understanding of the transaction itself and abstract societal costs associated with the practice. We assess this perspective using survey experiments conducted in several Latin American countries that present hypothetical vote-buying situations for evaluation by respondents, varying the socioeconomic status of the hypothetical client and the client's political predispositions. We find that the disapproval of vote buying is highly conditional on the attributes of the hypothetical client and that evaluations of vote buying depend on conceptions of the concrete benefits and abstract costs of vote buying as a part of electoral politics.