Clarity of Responsibility and Corruption


  • I would like to thank Taavi Annus, Christine Cheng, A. Cooper Drury, Mark A. Kayser, Jonathan Krieckhaus, Lawrence LeDuc, and Natalia Letki for reading and commenting on various versions of the article. An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, September 1–4, 2005.

Margit Tavits is assistant professor of political science, University of Missouri-Columbia, 113 Professional Building, Columbia, MO 65211 ( and Post-Doctoral Prize Research Fellow, Nuffield College, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom, OX1 1NF.


This article demonstrates that political institutions influence the level of corruption via clarity of responsibility. The key hypothesis is that when political institutions provide high clarity of responsibility, politicians face incentives to pursue good policies and reduce corruption. These incentives are induced by the electorates' rejection of incumbents who do not provide satisfactory outcomes. However, if lines of responsibility are not clear, the ability of voters to evaluate and punish politicians—as well as to create incentives for performance—declines. The findings confirm that countries with institutions that allow for greater clarity of responsibility have lower levels of corruption.