Self-serving elite behaviour and citizen mobilization (Academic Panel)

If economic and political elites start acting in more self-serving ways, does this lead to increased political mobilization among citizens? Prominent political economy theories suggest that it does. A fundamental assumption in the model of Acemoglu and Robinson (2006) is that elite concessions or full democracy come about because citizens are willing to use their political power to force the elite to introduce or accept democratic institutions. An implication of this assumption is that if elites start behaving more to the contrary of citizen interests, citizens will exercise their power, ceteris paribus. In other words, a more self-serving (or less benevolent) elite will result in greater citizen political mobilization. Some recent empirical evidence casts doubt on the general validity of this assumption, however. For instance, in the experimental study of Chong et al. (2015), giving Mexican voters information on corruption resulted in a negative effect on voter turnout. This panel invites papers that analyze the link between self-serving elite behaviour and citizen political mobilization, theoretically and/or empirically. It takes a wide view of the concept of self-serving elite behaviour, including such phenomena as grand corruption, elite capture, high level rent-seeking, evasion or avoidance of taxes and more (Kolstad and Wiig, 2016). Citizen political participation is also interpreted widely, including electoral and other formal political participation, but also more informal forms of citizen participation. Papers that analyze the mechanisms linking self-serving elite behaviour and citizen participation are of particular relevance to this panel.

Acemoglu, D., and Robinson, J.A., (2006), Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Chong, A., O, A. de la, Karlan, D., and Wantchekon, L. (2015), ” Does corruption information inspire the fight or quash the hope? A field experiment in Mexico on voter turnout, choice, and party identification”, Journal of Politics, 77, 1, 55-71.

Kolstad, I. and Wiig, A. (2016), “How do voters respond to information on elite behaviour? Evidence from a randomized survey experiment in Tanzania”, mimeo, Bergen: Chr. Michelsen Institute


Ivar Kolstad and Arne Wiig, Chr. Michelsen Institute