Trust in institutions and justification of fraud from a comparative perspective

GT 4.2 Cultura política ayer y hoy: tres décadas de evolución y cambio de las actitudes políticas de los españoles

Edurne Bartolomé Peral (Universidad de Deusto)
Claudia Abreu Lopes

The main objective of this paper is to explore the individual and structural factors that support citizens’ justification of fraudulent practices such as cheating on taxes, falsely claiming state benefits and paying cash with no receipt. At the individual level, justification of fraud is explained through trust in institutions such as the parliament, government, political parties, and social security system. Countries differences on levels of justification of fraud are framed in the structural context of some European countries in a comparative perspective. 
The relationships citizens establish with institutions such as justice, government, and parliament are rooted on social trust which is extended to institutional trust. In a way that citizens expect others and institutions to behave according to their expectations, when expectations fail to be met, trust is undermined and fraud is perceived as more acceptable. This compensatory mechanism is intended to restore the cognitive balance between citizens and government institutions. This article goes further to explore the interplay between trust in institutions and contextual variables such as the country level of corruption, GDP and income inequality to explain justification of fraud.
This mechanism was empirically tested using data from the European Value Study (4th wave, 2008/09). Justification of fraud is modeled through multilevel regression of individuals nested in countries. The results indicate that fraud is perceived as more acceptable when trust in government institutions is low and in countries with greater income inequalities (controlling for GDP).