OF ‘CORRUPTION’ AND THEIR
David P. Redlawsk
and James A. McCann
Using a large six-city exit poll from 2000, we examine popular judgments of what
constitutes ‘‘political corruption’’ in the United States. We ﬁnd two distinct evaluative
dimensions: corruption understood as lawbreaking, and corruption as favoritism.
These judgments are heavily conditioned by the voter’s socioeconomic background and
are politically consequential. Subjective understandings of ‘‘corruption’’ shape per-
ceptions of how much corruption actually exists in government. Furthermore, and
more importantly, these normative assessments play a signiﬁcant part in voting deci-
sions. Individuals who judged illegal activities such as bribe-taking to be ‘‘corrupt’’
were more inclined to back one of the major party candidates in 2000; those who
believed that favoritism in politics was ‘‘corrupt’’ (e.g., an ofﬁcial recommending an
unemployed friend for a government job) were more likely to vote for Al Gore or Ralph
Key words: political corruption; favoritism; exit poll; voting; third parties.
Few subjects in American politics attract as much attention as corruption.
As the historian Gordon S. Wood recounts in his study of the American
Constitutional founding, the principal driving force behind the revolutionary
war was the desire to be free from English corruption. ‘‘‘Alas! Great Brit-
ain,’ said one Virginian in 1775, ‘their vices have even extended to America!
. . . The torrent as yet is but small; only a few are involved in it; it must be
Department of Political Science, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, 52242, USA; Department of
Political Science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, 47907-2098, USA.
Political Behavior, Vol. 27, No. 3, September 2005 (
0190-9320/05/0900-0261/0 Ó 2005 Springer ScienceþBusiness Media, Inc.