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“The Pure People” versus “the Corrupt Elite”? Political Corruption, Political Trust and the Success of Radical Right Parties in Europe

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journal contribution
posted on 13.07.2015, 09:04 by Conrad Ziller, Thomas Schübel

Contrasting “the pure people” with “the corrupt elite” is a prominent rhetorical figure of populist radical right parties and their proponents. However, scholars rarely consider political corruption as an explanatory factor for the electoral success of this party family. This study investigates the role of individual corruption experience in dealing with public officials for radical right party support in 12 European countries. As central argument, we contend that the relationship between corruption experience and voting radical right is essentially mediated by citizens' trust in public officials and political institutions. The empirical results support this argument, showing that exposure to corruption diminishes political trust which in turn leads to a higher propensity to vote for a radical right party. Additionally, we provide insight about country-specific factors that moderate the individual-level relationships. We find that the eroding effect of corruption experience on trust in public officials is less severe in contexts of low institutional quality. Moreover, radical right parties are particularly able to mobilize support from distrusting voters when in opposition.