Political Corruption and Voter Turnout in China: The Effects of Perception, Experience, and Purchases

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Voter turnout reflects political participation in both democracies and autocracies, and corruption's impact on turnout is a matter of long-term debate. Previous literature has addressed three major theories: the distrust theory, trade theory, and the removal theory. However, the empirical analysis of corruption's impact on turnout is limited, especially for authoritarian regimes. Though several researchers discuss the cross-national impact of corruption perception on turnout, they do not evaluate the effect of actual corrupt activities. Based on village-level elections in China, this research responds to the gaps in the literature by analyzing how corruption perception, experienced corruption, and electoral corruption impact turnout in contested elections in autocracies. This paper estimates hierarchical generalized linear models and uses mediation analysis to analyze data from the China Survey 2008. It finds: (1) citizen perceptions of corruption depress turnout by lowering interest in elections, which is inconsistent with the removal theory; (2) both corruption perceptions and experienced corruption can raise people's concern about Chinese democracy and consequently depress turnout; this mediation analysis reveals that corruption influences turnout through dwindling trust in the regime; (3) electoral corruption increases turnout directly, which supports the trade theory. Overall, although corruption can directly “buy” votes, it may undermine voting by decreasing political trust in both elections and the regime.





Fu, Chengyu (2020). Political Corruption and Voter Turnout in China: The Effects of Perception, Experience, and Purchases. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/20777.


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