A Moral Appeal for Taxpayer Compliance: The Case for a Mass Media Campaign



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    • **Laurie Mason is an Assistant Professor in the Communication Department at Santa Clara University. Her background includes five years as a working journalist. Her research interests focus on legal questions involving the mass media.


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    • ***Robert Mason is a project director in the Survey Research Center, Department of Statistics, Oregon State University. His research interests include the roles of the mass media and public opinion in tax compliance issues.

  • *The authors wish to thank Karyl Kinsey and Kent Smith, American Bar Foundation; Kathy Moore, Philosophy Department, Oregon State University; Clifford Nass and Steven Chaffee, Department of Communication, Stanford University; Stephen Lee, Communication Department, Santa Clara University; and anonymous reviewers, who commented on earlier drafts. This research was completed with the assistance of a summer salary grant to the senior author by the San Jose State University Foundation.


This paper examines the ability of the mass media to enhance compliance with the law by the use of moral appeals. Drawing on the moral development literature and the literature of mass communication effects, we set forth a model for designing mass media campaigns directed at improving compliance with the law. Tax compliance is the issue we analyze. While we determine that no appeal, however well-crafted, is expected to reform all tax offenders, and that some approaches are likely to produce less rather than more compliance, we identify hallmarks of a potentially successful appeal.