Comparative European Politics

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 511–534 | Cite as

Honesty above all else? Expectations and perceptions of political conduct in three established democracies

  • Nicholas AllenEmail author
  • Sarah Birch
  • Katja Sarmiento-Mirwaldt
Original Article


Many citizens across the liberal democratic world are highly critical of their elected representatives’ conduct. Drawing on original survey data from Britain, France and Germany, this paper offers a unique insight into prevailing attitudes across Europe’s three largest democracies. It finds remarkable consistencies in the ethical priorities of British, French and German citizens: although there is some individual-level variation, respondents in all three countries overwhelmingly prioritise having honest representatives. It also finds differences in the types of behaviour that cause most concern in each country. The paper then examines how individuals’ preferences shape their concerns about prevailing standards. The findings are consistent with the idea that citizens’ predispositions have an ‘anchoring’ effect on perceptions of political integrity. Finally, the paper considers whether established democracies are susceptible to an ‘expectations gap’ between citizens’ expectations of conduct and what ‘normal’ politics can realistically deliver.


anti-politics corruption misconduct ethical attitudes expectations 



The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from the ESRC (Grant Number RES-000-22-3459) and British Academy (Grant Numbers SG-101785 and SG-52322). They would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas Allen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sarah Birch
    • 2
  • Katja Sarmiento-Mirwaldt
    • 3
  1. 1.Royal Holloway University of LondonEghamUK
  2. 2.King’s College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Brunel University LondonUxbridgeUK

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