Tax havens, elite behaviour and citizen participation

Does self-serving elite behaviour make citizens more politically active? If we inform voters about the elite’s use of tax havens, are they more likely to take part in elections and other political processes? And does the form on the information matter, are voters more inclined to respond to information that stokes their moral indignation?

In Tanzania in 2015, researchers from the Taxation, Institutions and Participation (TIP) project conducted a randomized field experiment to test the effect of providing information about elite use of tax havens on political participation. Eligible voters were randomized into three groups; a first group was shown a video on the elite’s use of tax havens that was neutral in tone, a second group watched a video on the same issue but using a more morally charged language emphasizing the unfairness of the practice, and a third (control) group watched no video. After the video, respondents were asked questions about political participation and other issues.

Our results suggest that giving voters information on the elite’s use of tax havens is not effective in promoting participation. In fact, the charged video had a significantly negative effect on voting intentions. The results suggest that in less well-functioning democracies, morally charged messages of self-serving elite behaviour tend to activate or reinforce sentiments of the futility of democratic action. The study offers few easy lessons for improving elite accountability in these types of countries, suggesting that measures to enhance citizen confidence in democracy are needed, which may prove difficult without more fundamental changes to the political system.


The videos used in our experiment can be seen here:

Swiss Billions Neutral

Swiss Billions Charged