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Plausible deniability

Joshua A Strayhorn

Journal of Theoretical Politics, 2019, vol. 31, issue 4, 600-625

Abstract: One explanation for why voters sometimes fail to hold elected officials accountable for corruption is failure to correctly attribute blame. Yet existing theories of how voters attribute responsibility do not consider how voters assessments may be shaped by the possibility that politicians can strategically delegate corrupt activity. This paper develops a formal model of an electoral accountability environment where politicians can pursue malfeasance directly or indirectly, but where ‘rogue agents’ occasionally pursue malfeasance independently. Corruption can arise via multiple pathways, and politicians sometimes possess plausible deniability. In one equilibrium, voters rationally reelect after plausibly deniable corruption due to a non-obvious and novel mechanism. Politicians are also more likely to delegate malfeasance to agents when they anticipate lenience. Voter lenience is non-monotonically related to many parameters, including politician competence, the agent’s malfeasance preferences, and transparency.

Keywords: Accountability; blame attribution; corruption; delegation (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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DOI: 10.1177/0951629819875518

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