Judging politicians: The role of political attentiveness in shaping how people evaluate the ethical behaviour of their leaders

Sarah Birch, Nicholas Allen

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Political theorists have developed well-defined normative understandings of what constitutes ethical political conduct. Based on democratic theory as well as the demands of practical politics, these understandings prescribe certain types of behaviour and proscribe other types. However, it is unclear to what extent this normative framework has resonance for ordinary citizens. This article demonstrates that attention to politics tends to increase the resonance of this normative framework. The analysis identifies three norms about the holding of public office that are expected to structure citizens' ethical judgments: the avoidance of conflicts of interest; conformity with the law or institutional rules; and the maximisation of the public good. The article assesses the importance of these norms in structuring judgments by means of an experiment embedded in a population survey conducted in Great Britain. The analysis finds that informational cues pertaining to conflict-of-interest avoidance only condition responses among the attentive, while information pertaining to law conformity has far wider resonance. This finding has implications for approaches to political ethics focusing on normative considerations that appear to have low salience for much of the general public.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-60
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
Issue number1
Early online date28 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015

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