Compliance Motivations: Affirmative and Negative Bases


  • Peter J. May

  • Invaluable research assistance with this project was provided by Jamie Baker, T. Jens Feeley, Valerie Hunt, Chris Koski, Michael Leahy, Todd Reichert, and Robert S. Wood. Helpful comments on earlier versions were provided by the journal editor, anonymous reviewers, Raymond J. Burby, Neil Gunningham, Bridget Hutter, Chris Koski, Soeren C. Winter, and Robert S. Wood. Funding for this research has been provided to the University of Washington by the National Science Foundation under grant CMS-9813371 and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under grant R82882501. The findings are not necessarily endorsed by the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the University of Washington, or the city officials who have cooperated in this study.

Address correspondence to Peter J. May, Center for American Politics and Public Policy, Department of Political Science, Campus Box 353530, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-3530; phone: (206) 543-9842; fax: (206) 685-2146; e-mail:


This research addresses affirmative and negative motivations for compliance with social and environmental regulations. Affirmative motivations emanate from good intentions and a sense of obligation to comply. Negative motivations arise from fears of the consequences of being found in violation of regulatory requirements. The relevance of these is examined for data concerning the motivations of homebuilders to comply with requirements of building codes. The findings highlight the importance of affirmative motivations for situations such as homebuilding for which regulation is better characterized as fulfillment of a social contract than solely as compliance with enforced directives.