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The Origins of Voluntary Compliance: Attitudes toward Taxation in Urban Nigeria

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 September 2014


Voluntary compliance is an important aspect of strong tax regimes, but there is limited understanding of how social norms favoring compliance emerge. Using novel data from urban Nigeria, where tax enforcement is weak, this article shows that individuals with a positive experience of state services delivery are more likely to express belief in an unconditioned citizen obligation to pay tax. In addition to support for this fiscal exchange mechanism, social context is consequential. Where individuals have access to community-provided goods, which may substitute for effective state services provision, they are less likely to adopt pro-compliance norms. Finally, the article shows that norm adoption increases tax payment. These findings have broad implications for literatures on state formation, taxation and public goods provision.

© Cambridge University Press 2014 

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Department of Political Science, Michigan State University; Department of Government, American University (, This project was funded by a grant from the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom. The authors thank Mike Bratton, Melani Cammett, Jeff Colgan, Don Green, Jan Leighley, John Miller, Emmanuel Teitelbaum, Matt Winters, the comparative politics group at Michigan State University, and audiences at American University, George Washington University, McGill University and Northwestern University for comments on earlier drafts. The authors also extend thanks to Oxford University’s Centre for the Study of African Economies, the Nigerian Governors Forum, the CLEEN Foundation and participants at our October 2012 workshop in Abuja, Nigeria. Data replication sets and online appendices are available at 10.1017/S000712341400026X.



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