This article ventures to be one of the first studies that examines the relationship between corruption and electoral turnout on the sub-national level. Taking Portugal, a southern European country with nationally relatively high levels of corruption and relatively low levels of turnout, as a case, we examine the relationship between the two concepts across Portugal’s 304 out of 308 municipalities for the legislative elections in 2005 and 2009. Controlling for municipal level GDP per capita, unemployment, the percentage of senior citizens, and population density, as well as the closeness of the election and the district magnitude, we find corruption to be a rather strong mobilizing agent. Compared to “clean” municipalities, our results indicate that turnout is several percentage points higher in “very corrupt” municipalities.
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To illustrate, in a country with high levels of corruption and low turnout, those individuals, who turn out at elections might, in fact, be concentrated in highly corrupt districts. While a national level study would conclude that high corruption leads to low turnout, the reality in the respective country may be that high corruption leads to high turnout.
For example, Anderson and Tverdova  find in their study on the effect of corruption on peoples’ attitudes toward governments in 16 major and new democracies that citizens in countries with higher levels of corruption express more negative evaluations of the political system, and exhibit lower levels of trust in civil servants than citizens in countries with lower levels of corruption.
In fact, right after Switzerland, Portugal had the second lowest turnout rate in its 2009 legislative election. In 2009, actually less than 60 % of the registered voters cast their ballot. In 2004, national level turnout reached 64.3 % and was thus slightly higher.
As a robustness check, we run our first model as a generalized least square model with clustered robust standard errors. The model yields the same results pertaining to our main variable of interest, corruption.
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Stockemer, D., Calca, P. Corruption and turnout in Portugal—a municipal level study. Crime Law Soc Change 60, 535–548 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-013-9481-7
- Senior Citizen
- Municipal Level
- High Turnout
- Southern European Country
- Political Corruption