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Selective Bribery: When Do Citizens Engage in Corruption? (WP-22-28)

Aaron Erlich, Jordan Gans-Morse, and Simeon Nichter

Corruption often persists not only because public officials take bribes, but also because many citizens are willing to pay them. Yet even in countries with endemic corruption, few people always pay bribes. Why do citizens bribe in some situations but not in others? Integrating insights from both principal-agent and collective action approaches to the study of corruption, the authors develop an analytical framework for understanding selective bribery. Their framework reveals how citizens’  motivations, costs, and risks influence their willingness to engage in corruption. A conjoint experiment conducted in Ukraine in 2020 provides substantial corroboration for 10 of 11 pre-registered predictions. By shedding light on conditions that dampen citizens’ readiness to pay bribes, the researchers’ findings offer insights into the types of institutional reforms that may reduce corruption.

Aaron Erlich, Assistant Professor of Political Science, McGill University

Jordan Gans-Morse, Associate Professor of Political Science and IPR Associate, Northwestern University

Simeon Nichter, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego

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