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Legislative Malfeasance and Political Accountability

  • Eric C. C. Chang (a1), Miriam A. Golden (a2) and Seth J. Hill (a3)
Abstract

Utilizing a unique data set from the Italian Ministry of Justice reporting the transmission to the Chamber of Deputies of more than the thousand requests for the removal of parliamentary immunity from deputies suspected of criminal wrongdoing, the authors analyze the political careers of members of the Chamber during the first eleven postwar legislatures (1948–94). They find that judicial investigation typically did not discourage deputies from standing for reelection in Italy's large multimember electoral districts. They also show that voters did not punish allegedly malfeasant legislators with loss of office until the last (Eleventh) legislature in the sample. To account for the dramatic change in voter behavior that occurred in the early 1990s, the investigation focuses on the roles of the judiciary and the press. The results are consistent with a theory that a vigilant and free press is a necessary condition for political accountability in democratic settings. An independent judiciary alone is ineffective in ensuring electoral accountability if the public is not informed of political malfeasance.

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* Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2004 and 2007 annual meetings of the American Political Science Association, Waseda University, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Trento, Nuffield College (Oxford), Washington University in St. Louis, Stanford University, the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and Carleton University (Canada). We are grateful for comments from members of those audiences and for additional comments by James Alt, Donatella Della Porta, Andrew Healy, Douglas A. Hibbs, Jr., Lucio Picci, Steven Reed, Susan Roseackerman, Salvatore Vassallo, and Andrea Vindigni. The data were gathered by Miriam Golden with support of the National Science Foundation (SES-0074860), the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Academic Senate of the University of California at Los Angeles. The data on malfeasance were originally provided by the Gruppo Democratici di Sinistra-L'Ulivo of the Senato della Repubblica Italiana and are publicly available via Dataverse at http://dvn.iq.harvard.edu/dvn/dv/golden. For research assistance, we thank Daniel Smith, Jonathan Slapin, Matthew Spence, and Yuki Yanai.

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
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