Nicholas Charron

Institutional Quality, State Intervention, and Democratic Accountability in Europe

Since the turn of the millennium, leading international organizations, such as the World Bank and the UN have stressed the importance of ‘quality of government’ (QoG) for social and economic prosperity. This project analyzes several aspects of QoG, understood as fair and impartial application of laws and policies with low levels of corruption, and its causes and consequences in contemporary European politics. Building on 12 years of my previous work, the project is broadly organized in two parts. First, I study several consequences of QoG on citizens’ policy preferences. In a time of rising inequality, I investigate how QoG affects public demand for re-distributive policies like taxation, regulation, and inter-EU aid to members states in need post-COVID-19. I also ask how QoG affects preferences for authoritarian ‘strong-man’-type politics. Second, I am interested in causes of QoG along two lines. One, I study why voters hold some politicians accountable (or not) when involved in political corruption, and two, if and how political gender equality improves QoG. To carry out this research, I use newly collected primary data in 2020-2021 from several of my ongoing projects. I apply for the grant to, one, synthesize my current research projects and provide a deeper understanding of the causes and consequences of QoG and to have time to produce high quality publications. And two, to collaborate with several of the world’s leading scholars on these topics at Harvard University
Final report
Institutional Quality, State Intervention, and Democratic Accountably in Europe

My research project, Institutional Quality, State Intervention, and Democratic Accountably in Europe – investigates with how we can better foster quality institutions that create social cohesion and legitimate governance across Europe. The past decade has been marked by significant crises and turmoil in Europe, from the financial crisis to the rise of authoritarian populism, and Brexit. In the wake of these events, it is becoming clearer that much of the dissatisfaction and distrust among European citizens is directly related with corruption and poor-quality intuitions. The project during the sabbatical at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University has resulted in several peer-reviewed publications, book chapters and conference presentation and seminars
Research demonstrates that governments with high ‘quality of government’ (QoG) deliver essential public goods and facilitate processes that are conducive to economic growth, better health outcomes and social development, broadly speaking. Conversely, researchers in development economics, comparative politics, and public administration have found robust evidence that governments with low QoG –i.e. those with dysfunctional and corrupt public organizations – suffer a wide range of economic and social problems. For example, studies have shown that low-QoG countries endure lower levels of economic development, higher income inequality, and worse environmental outcomes, and poorer electoral accountability as a response to political corruption. Additionally, its citizens have poorer health, fewer women in politics and lower levels of happiness and subjective well-being.

While research on institutional quality has unquestionably grown in recent years, there remains several lacunae that this project has tried to address. First, the project seeks to better understand the consequences that corruption and poor governance have on citizen preferences for anti-establishment, populist-right parties and for democratic accountability generally speaking. Namely, in one publication, we showed in the French presidential elections, that the greatest predictor of support for the far-right candidate was where perceptions of corruption increased from the previous election to the current one. Two, in other studies, we showed that confidence in institutions were key to understanding European citizens support and solidarity for most affected areas in the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, QoG is found to be a significant predictor of higher identification with Europe among people living close to national borders.

Second, I investigate several channels of causes of QoG, namely via elections and various forms of representation. Improving QoG requires combatting political corruption, via voters ‘throwing out the rascals’ or by incentivizing politicians to change behavior. On this point, we tested voter responses to corruption in a pan EU survey. In particular, together with my co-authors, we to embedded a hypothetical vignette in the EQI survey which randomizes the type of political corruption are most important to voters in terms of their electoral reaction to political corruption. As we are most interested in unpacking the conditions which make accountability in the face of political corruption most likely, this part of the project will try to elucidate who and where people are willing to switch parties when their own has been involved in political corruption. To go more in depth on this question, we conducted a single country study in Romania, considered one of the most corrupt in the EU. With data from their official anti-corruption agency (DNA), and an original online survey during the last municipal election we investigated the link between indictments of sitting mayors and voter responses to this using real-world electoral data in voter responses to mayoral indictments on corruption charges corruption in the last municipal election. We found that while voters are strongly opposed to corruption in the abstract via hypothetical questions, that knowledge of corruption did not affect their vote in the actual election. We explain this by developing a novel theory of collective action in the face of corruption – that voters do not believe that others will sufficiently rise up and ‘vote out the rascals’. Using a survey experiment, we show that when voters are provided information about the intent of others, that they were less like to abstain and did in fact vote for alternatives to the indicted mayors at higher rates. Finally, in a study on the effects of party primaries in Spanish sub-national elections, we found that when parties switched from no primaries to primaries in their candidate selection that perceptions of corruption increased among their voters, suggesting that inter-party competition can heighten charges of political corruption in some contexts.

Third, together with several co-authors, I investigate how greater female representation affects QoG. Moreover, while the literature on this topic has demonstrated consistent empirical link between greater female representation and corruption, the evidence has been almost exclusively correlational. Therefore, the project seeks to understand whether there is in fact a causal relationship, and if so, does it last over time? In several different publications on this topic, we found that where the rates of female politicians increased from one election to the next in European regions that citizens experienced lower rates of petty corruption in public services such as health care, and education. Additionally, in a study on female representation in South African municipalities, we found that rates of vote buying in local elections are lower where female representation is higher.
Grant administrator
University of Gothenburg
Reference number
SEK 1,318,000.00
RJ Sabbatical
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)