Moral Integrity and Reputation of Politicians as Perceived by

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Moral Integrity and Reputation of Politicians as Perceived by

    Moral Integrity and Reputation of Politicians as Perceived by Supporters of Anti-

    1 Establishment Parties. A Comparison between Switzerland and Italy

Oscar Mazzoleni

From the pioneering research of the „60s and „70s on the United States to the more recent comparative

    studies on countries from nearly every continent, including Western Europe (Newell & Bull 2003a; Della Porta & Mény 1997), the issue of political corruption seems to hold increasing interest for sociology and political science. The fact that most of the political elites in democratic regimes have been directly or indirectly struck by scandals have significantly contributed to the development of this interest. As has often been noted, the mass media have given a “new” visibility to the phenomenon of

    political corruption in Western Europe as well (e.g. Blumler 1990; Thompson 2000). Another factor in the heightened importance of this issue is the presence on the political field of an “anti-politics”

    rhetoric (e.g. Mastropaolo 2005), especially provided by emerging parties which have been called “populist” or “anti-establishment”. These parties often put at the core of their agenda a harsh criticism of the political elites, whom they accuse of incapacity, corruption and betrayal of the people‟s interests

    (Schedler 1996). While the emergence, and in certain cases the electoral success of these parties can be explained in many ways, one might ask to what extent their supporters express a specific form of stigmatisation of the virtual transgressions of politicians.

    Addressing this problem means asking first the more general question: what determines the degree of tolerance or intolerance that citizens feel toward the moral behaviour of politicians. To respond to this question, one must resort to the tradition of studies that adopt a definition of tolerance for political corruption based on public opinion (e.g. Heidenheimer 1978; Johnston 1989). According to these studies, the perception of corruption and the degree of tolerance for it seem to vary in function of

    2socio-cultural resources and political socialisation, as well as party allegiances. One might ask if the

    supporters of the so-called “populist” parties have a particular sensitivity to the issue of political probity. Can one say, for example, that the supporters of “populist” parties are less tolerant towards

    “unscrupulous” politicians (“the ends justify the means”) and more sensitive to the question of moral reputation?

    This paper attempts to respond to these questions by way of a survey conducted in two bordering regions belonging to two different Western European countries: the Canton Ticino, the Italian-speaking region in the south of Switzerland, and northern Italy, particularly the provinces of Como, Varese, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Lecco. In both these bordering regions, so-called “populist” parties

     1 Prepared for the Workshop “Corruption and Democracy in Europe: Public Opinion and Social Representations”,

    University of Salford, 29 31 March 2007. 2 For a critical review of the literature, see Bezes & Lascoumes 2005.


    which have made the criticism of the political establishment a key element of their discourse have shown a certain electoral longevity, even success, during the „90s and 2000s.

The morality of politicians, according to the people

    Several studies have suggested that people‟s tolerance for the moral transgressions of politicians is a phenomenon that can be examined from different points of view. On the one hand, they emphasise the specific socio-economic conditions, socialisation and political orientation of the citizens themselves; on the other, they consider the particular nature of different politicians‟ behaviour. Some acts are judged more harshly than others. The people‟s evaluation varies in function of political actions and contexts.

    For example, it has been shown that the severity with which “conflicts of interest” are judged depends on whether they are voluntary or involuntary. Similarly, clientelism can be seen under certain circumstances as an obligation of the elected official, while in others it is criticised for breaking the rule of fairness, when it assumes the form, for example, of nepotism (Johnston 1989; Mancuso & al. 2006). Generally, the more the favour can be seen as indirect, dislocated in time and proximate to the normal functioning of the political system, the less gravely the act will be condemned (Bezes & Lascoumes 2005: 779). Often the studies that employ a definition of political corruption based on public opinion ask groups or representative samples to evaluate a series of acts that can be seen as more or less corrupt, with the aim of identifying to what extent they are considered tolerable or not (Gibbons 1989). These studies assume that the vast majority of the citizenry is predisposed to condemn political corruption “on principle”, but there are different ways of defining it, and the same acts could be variably condemned. Alternatively, it is possible to examine attitudes toward political corruption from another point of view: instead of evaluating concrete situations, one can ask what is in principle the degree of tolerance towards behaviour virtually threaten common moral rules and public reputation as well. We must suppose in this case that these transgressions can provoke different kinds of moral indignation among citizens, depending on both the application of moral rules for politicians and the public use of the accusation of political corruption.

    Moreover, as is often pointed out, the social and political profile of the ordinary citizen can play an important role in determining tolerance to political corruption. In his ground-breaking research conducted in several American cities in 1966, Gardiner (1970) demonstrated that the members of the most prosperous classes, those most socialised to the norms of the dominant culture and who have greater access to political information are also the most tolerant towards political acts that might be judged as deviant. On the basis of this study, we can deduce that citizenry with the greatest resources and who are most politically informed are also more familiar with the idea that the pursuit of one‟s own private interests goes on inside political circles as well as outside. This would foster the perception that certain acts are more the fruit of merit and experience than an expression of corruption. Individuals with greater training and education, higher income and other social resources, therefore, would tend to


    see corruption in a more restrictive or legalistic sense. Those who have fewer resources share a broader definition of political corruption (which also includes, for example, favouritism), where the realm of the illicit is much wider than that of the strictly illegal (Gibbons 1989; Johnson 1986; Redlawsk & McGann 2005). Also interesting is the relationship between tolerance of corruption and trust in political actors and institutions (politicians, parties, governments). Although comparative analyses show that there is a rather close positive correlation between these two attitudes, it is difficult to establish a simple nexus of cause and effect between them, independently of political context (Anderson & Tverdova 2005; Della Porta 2000; Pharr 2000). Moral tolerance of political corruption can also be linked to party allegiances and to features of the political system. That which may be absolutely reprehensible according to the supporters of one party might be tolerated by supporters of another. In certain political systems, the perception of the gravity of a corrupt act is greater than in others. Surveys conducted in Latin America have shown that a voters‟ perception of corruption does not generally seem to be a significant predictor for voting an opposition party (this also because those most concerned about corruption are less likely to participate in elections). However, the gravity of the corruption does appear to have an impact on people‟s trust in the government (Davis, Camp, Coleman 2004; Dominguez & McGann 1996). Furthermore, the historical persistence of the domination of a single-party government, such as the post-war Japan, leads to a greater tolerance of corruption, especially among supporters of that party (Pharr 1999), while in more polarised political field there is a broader concern about corruption (Davis, Camp & Coleman 2004). There are however other aspects of corruption perception that remain less understood, particularly the way that people‟s judgments of the transgressions of politicians are connected to norms, principles and values acquired by socialisation and everyday experience. While this aspect is often evoked, detailed studies about it are rare. Can we say that those who are most tolerant of the moral transgression of politicians also have a more permissive view of public morality in general? And conversely, is it true that those less tolerant of transgression in politics are also less permissive in other aspects of public and private life? Or should we suppose that there is no direct relationship between the criteria of judgment applied to social spheres (public and private) and to political spheres? It is especially important to address these questions when studying “anti-establishment” parties, whose

    leaders condemn the existing political class (Schedler 1999), and are frequently though not only -

    voted by popular classes (Norris 2005). Given that these parties are often supported by citizens with low cultural and socio-economic resources, should we therefore conclude that supporters of these parties are less tolerant of potentially illicit behaviour by politicians? Analysis of the French situation seems to confirm the perception of politicians is worse among supporters of the Front National than among those of the other main parties (Mazzoleni 2007). However, the French case is able to see some ambivalence in the condemnation of corruption among the Front National supporters, especially when acts have been done by politicians in the name of the common interest (Muxel 2007). Moreover, there are at least two other aspects that might contradict the hypothesis of lower tolerance by supporters of


    so-called “populist” parties. That depends on the position of the “populist” party in the political context: these parties can be positioned outside the government or they can be directly involved, usually as part of a coalition. Consequently of this governement participation their supporters could, become more sociologically heterogeneous, that for a “catch-all” party. It can also be demonstrated

    that the leaders of these parties, more or less all over Europe, have criminal records, yet these convictions do not seem to have compromised their influence among their supporters.

Switzerland and Italy compared

    To respond to these questions, we analyse citizen attitudes in two regions of Western Europe

    Switzerland‟s Canton Ticino and northern Italy both of which have seen the emergence of strong

    “populist” parties over the past two decades: the Ticino League and the Northern League, respectively. Our study focuses on two countries seemingly far apart on the scale of the perception of corruption. According to the 2003 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International, Switzerland occupied 8th place, while Italy was 35th among the “least corrupt” countries. Furthermore, historical and political science studies give us an apparently more negative image of politicians in Italy than in Switzerland. The issue of corruption in Switzerland, a nation that boasts one of the world‟s most stable institutional structures and political systems, is nearly absent from the political agenda of recent years. The situation in Italy is very different, with corruption having loomed large in its recent history The reasons for this are rooted both in Italy‟s legacy (Galli della Loggia 1998; Della Porta 1996; Blondel

    1997) as well as in the relevance gave to political corruption scandals (called “Tangentopoli”), strongly

    connected to the transition between the so-called First and Second Republics in the „90s (Bull &

    Rhodes 1997; Newell & Bull 2003).

    There are, however, similarities between the two nations. On the one hand, there seems to be no lack of “grey areas” in Switzerland, considering that the consociational political system is based on widespread informal exchange. Furthermore, recently we have seen the emergency of significant political scandals (such as the Swissair bankruptcy) and a growing visibility of corruption within media (Queloz 2000). Lastly, the condemnation of the “political class” as a rhetorical resource in political struggles has surged with the emergence and growth of the so-called Swiss “populist” parties, such as

    the Ticino League, a regionalist party founded in the early „90s against the old consociational system (Albertazzi 2006; Mazzoleni 1999; 2006). On the other hand, Italy, particularly the northern regions, saw also the birth and the rise of regionalist leagues and “anti-partitocratic” protest (e.g. Biorcio 1997;

    Cento Bull & Gilbert 2002). In both countries, these parties have participated in governing coalitions, and have therefore had to partially accomodate themselves, to the “rules of the game”, accepting

    agreements and compromises with other parties, perhaps previously criticized as “establishment”. On the other hand, in both cases, the leaders of this “populist” parties have been accused of violating laws

    as well as basic moral code (in Switzerland, the leader and “lifelong” president of the League has often


    been implicated in criminal proceedings, and sometimes even convicted). The difference is that, in the “bi-polar” Italian system, being part of a coalition requires greater accommodation than in the Swiss

    canton, where the regional ministers are directly elected by citizens with a proportional system, and where elected people are less compelled to coalition pacts. For these reasons, our main hypothesis is that the supporters of the two leagues are not more sensitive than anyone else to transgressions of politicians.

Indulgence and intransigence with regards to political transgression

    In attempting to verify this hypothesis, we present a comparative study conducted in 2003 on a sample of about 2,900 citizens of the Canton Ticino and of the four provinces of the north Italy (Varese,

    3. To what extent are Italian and Swiss citizens prepared to Como, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Lecco)

    accept that a politician violates basic moral laws if they fulfil their responsibilities toward the electorate? And to what extent are those same citizens willing to morally condemn corrupted politicians. Our study asked participants to indicate their level of agreement with two statements. The first, “The means used

    by politicians don‟t matter, as long as they maintain their electoral promises”, asked to what extent politicians were allowed to morally transgress in the interest of a “just” result, following the principle that “ends justifying the means”. The second, “If a politician is suspected of corruption, he/she must be removed from office”, allowed us to evaluate people‟s tolerance for situations in which the moral reputation of a politician is placed under discussion.

    As predicted, analysis of the responses showed that transgressive acts by politicians and any compromise of their moral reputation are blamed by the majority of citizens. In both Switzerland and Italy, the majority does not agree with the statement “The means used by politicians don‟t matter, as long as they maintain their electoral promises”, although citizens from the northern Italian provinces are little bit more opposed (67%) than their Swiss counterparts (59%). The statement “If a politician is suspected of corruption, he/she must be removed from office” gets even greater consensus from both regions, though this time support is lower among the Italians (74%) than in Swiss part (84%). The citizens of the Italian provinces, then, seem to disapprove more of the moral transgression of politicians, while showing greater reserve with regard to accusations of corruption. In other words, the two types of acts would seem to reflect different orders of judgment on either side of the border. On the one hand, the morally transgressive act committed in the name of electoral promises might be less severely condemned in the Ticino, perhaps because of the less conflictual and polarised political system and the lesser public relevance of political corruption there (at least at the time the study was conducted). On the other hand, because in recent years accusations of corruption have been at the centre of Italy‟s political struggles, particularly during the second Berlusconi government (2001-2005), it

     3 The survey has been conducted by postal questionnaire using a random sample of adult residents. For the analyses, data has been weighted by educational level, gender, age, and regional context.


    should not be surprising that a higher percentage of Italians are less likely to demand the suspension of a politician “merely” because his/her moral reputation has been called into question by an accusation of corruption.

    These two indicators seems to measure two different phenomena, as in both contexts the statistical correlation between them is not significant. However, it is possible, given these indicators, to construct a typology that combines the responses to the two questions (Table 1). How do moral permissiveness and condemnation of corruption combine in the two regions? Regarding the minority group of those who are critical of moral transgression but contrary to the suspension of politicians accused of corruption, we notice a similar proportion of respondents in both contexts; the same occurs for the larger group of those that we can call, lacking of an alternative conceptual synthesis, the “formalists”,

    who accept moral transgression as long it doesn‟t take politician‟s public reputation into question. Conversely, the other two groups are proportionally dissimilar, with the Swiss being less tolerant of transgressive acts and allegations of corruption (those whom we have defined as “intransigents”), while

    the Italians are less inclined to demand the suspension of a politician accused of corruption.

Table 1. Typologies of moral tolerance toward politicians

    “The means used by politicians don‟t

    matter, as long as they maintain their

    campaign promises”

    Agree or strongly Disagree or

    agreestrongly disagree


    Canton Ticino Canton Ticino Disagree or


    disagree Italian provinces Italian provinces “If a politician is 20.5%15.0%suspected of

    corruption, he/she “Formalists”“Intransigents”must be removed from

    office”Canton Ticino Canton Ticino Agree or 30.2%46.0%strongly agreeItalian provinces Italian provinces


Socio-demographic aspects


    To what extent do these various opinions respond to different social, cultural and political logics? What are the points of convergence between the two regions? From the socio-demographic viewpoint, noteworthy similarities emerge, as well as significant differences (table 2).

    Table 2. Sociodemographic aspects and moral tolerance toward politicians, in Canton Ticino and in the northern italian provinces

    Northern italian provincesCanton Ticino


    indulgentsCramer's VCramer's VGendermale23,126,215,535,1100,0**0.071**13,429,816,740,1100,0***0.142***female18,230,814,536,5100,09,130,19,651,2100,0Total20,528,615,035,9100,011,030,012,846,2100,0formalistsindulgentsAge18-30 years29,427,315,727,6100,0***0.104***14,221,919,744,3100,0***0.118***31-45 years19,724,720,135,5100,011,024,017,947,1100,046-60 years16,428,011,644,1100,07,331,710,051,0100,0legalistsformalistsmore than 60 years19,234,711,734,5100,012,737,36,543,5100,0Total20,628,714,935,8100,011,229,413,046,5100,0Level of educationprimary school17,033,97,241,9100,0***0.151***12,936,07,943,3100,0***0.140***intransigentslegalistshigh school or professional education22,128,117,532,3100,011,030,510,847,7100,0university24,116,525,534,0100,09,919,127,643,4100,0Total20,628,515,035,9100,011,129,812,746,3100,0TotalintransigentsPrincipal professionentrepreneur / self-employed worker27,120,318,633,9100,0***0.142***18,323,311,746,7100,0n.s.n.s.shopkeeper / artisan20,040,014,325,7100,04,330,48,756,5100,0employee20,822,923,532,8100,010,524,515,449,7100,0pChi2Totalteacher16,713,633,336,4100,010,425,016,747,9100,0worker18,629,09,043,4100,010,031,812,745,5100,0farmer0,00,00,0100,0100,00,00,050,050,0100,0pChi2Other professions9,122,727,340,9100,04,527,313,654,5100,0Totale19,824,419,336,5100,010,726,114,348,8100,0

    1: n.s.= not significant; *=p<0,1; **=p<0,05; ***=p<0,01

    Source: survey OVP-2003

    Among the Italian “indulgents”, males and individuals between 18 and 30 years of age are over-

    represented. In this same category, in Switzerland, we find a predominance of males and business people. Among Italian “formalists”, there is a preponderance of women, people over 60, merchants, craftsmen and people with lower educational skills; in the Ticino, the elderly and those with a compulsory educational level are also over-represented in this category. The “legalist” orientation is

    held largely by Italians between the ages of 18 and 45 and those with a university education. In Italy, the “intransigents” – that is, those least tolerant towards politicians that violate moral codes are

    composed mostly of people between 46 and 60 years of age and those with a compulsory level of education. In Switzerland, women are predominant in the “intransigent” category, alongside people

    with lower educational levels as in Italy. In both contexts, people with less education are over-represented among both the “formalists” and the “intransigents”: in other words, groups that most

    expect that politicians maintain an impeccable moral reputation. However, in both the Ticino and the Italian provinces, less educated citizens are anything but uniform when it comes to judging the moral transgression of a politician who nonetheless maintains his/her electoral promises. Even so, in keeping with studies conducted in other countries, our research confirms the tendency whereby people with more educational skills will criticise moral transgression, but from a more “legalist” position. This

    suggests a logic of moral judgment centred upon a more strict definition, where the accusation of corruption, or rather the bringing of a politician‟s moral reputation into question, is not enough to formally suspend him/her from office.


Political trust

    It is useful to compare the perception of transgression of moral rules with trust in politicians, political parties and governments. Our analysis shows, on the one hand, several points of convergence between the two contexts: in both Switzerland and Italy, the “intransigents” have a lower level of trust in

    political parties than other groups. Conversely, those who are generally willing to tolerate morally transgressive acts from politicians have a moderate (and in Switzerland high) degree of trust in political parties. Meanwhile, the nature of this trust seems different in the two contexts, which confirms that hypothesis that disapproval of political corruption can significantly depend on the specific political configuration. In Italy, where the level of trust in politicians and political institutions is lower on average than in the Ticino (Mazzoleni 2004), those least trustful tend to be found mostly among the “intransigents”, less so among the “formalists”; conversely, the “indulgents”, and less so the “legalists” claim that their trust in politicians has remained unchanged or even increased (table 3). In short, in Italy, where legal convictions for political corruption and the exploitation of the issue of corruption toward political ends have been headline news for many years, the different ways of judging the gravity of alleged corruption is quite clearly linked to the different levels of trust in politicians. In Switzerland, however, only among the “intransigents” we find a preponderance of citizens who feel their trust has

    diminished. We can deduce from this analysis that, in Italy, judgment of the moral behaviour of politicians is more closely linked to people‟s trust, while in Switzerland this connection is somewhat less

    direct. A confirmation of this phenomenon can be found in the degree of citizen‟s trust in the national

    government. While in Italy there is a significant link between government trust and moral tolerance of political behaviour, in Switzerland there is no statistical association at all. As expected, in Italy, those with a moderate or high level of trust in the government (Berlusconi) are more “indulgent”, whilst

    those with lower levels of trust tend to judge politicians more rigorously from a moral point of view. In Canton Ticino, once again, there is an over-represented percentage of less trusting citizens only among the “intransigents”. In sum, with the exception of the “intransigents” category, which is less trusting in both Italy and Switzerland, the relationship between tolerance toward political wrongdoing (and above all toward the allegation of corruption) and political trust seems to be heavily influenced by the political context. In Italy‟s bipolar context, where political scandals have long been at the centre of the political

    conflict between the government and opposition parties, there is a more intense relationship. In the Ticino, which has a consociational system wherein the government is formed by all the main parties, the connection between tolerance for corruption and political trust is quite a bit less evident, except in the case of trust in political parties.


Table 3. Political aspects and moral tolerance toward politicians, in Canton Ticino and in the northern italian provincesNorthern italian provincesCanton Ticino


    IndulgentsCramer's VCramer's VTrust in political partiesLow trustLow trust15,926,215,242,7100,0***0,114***8,123,513,355,1100,0***0,112***Middle trustMiddle trust24,831,514,029,7100,013,132,712,841,5100,0FormalistsHigh trustHigh trust25,822,622,629,0100,08,843,915,831,6100,0TotalTotal20,628,814,735,8100,011,330,313,145,3100,0Perception of the evolution of increased or unchanged31,625,325,6100,00.262***increased or unchanged12,732,613,641,1100,00.096**17,5*****Legaliststrust in politiciansdecreased12,930,313,143,7100,0decreased9,427,612,650,3100,0TotalTotal20,528,314,936,3100,010,929,913,146,2100,0IntransigentsTrust in governmentLow trustLow trust9,227,08,255,7100,0***0,198***10,024,59,156,4100,0n.s Middle trustMiddle trust24,429,217,329,2100,011,931,812,344,0100,0TotalHigh trustHigh trust27,631,017,124,3100,010,328,215,845,7100,0IndulgentsTotalTotal20,728,814,835,6100,011,330,112,945,7100,0Political self-placementleftleft10,823,210,355,7100,0***0.165***2,621,418,857,3100,0***0.111***pChi2center-leftcenter-left16,125,015,743,2100,013,020,118,248,7100,0Formalistscentercenter17,337,612,732,4100,011,629,812,745,9100,0center-rightcenter-right26,821,922,828,5100,012,435,013,639,0100,0rightright33,627,217,621,6100,012,738,810,438,1100,0Legalistsdoesn't know or placedoesn't know or place16,334,111,837,8100,011,031,09,248,8100,0Total20,628,415,135,8100,0Total10,929,812,946,3100,0IntransigentsParty identificationcenter-left8,822,210,758,2100,0***0,161***Ps-Verdi-Pdl-Mps-Plst7,321,820,650,3100,0***0,104***center-right29,825,222,122,9100,0Ticino League20,931,36,041,8100,0Northern League31,831,823,912,5100,0Ppd9,832,211,246,9100,0TotalNo identification20,230,913,435,4100,0Plrt9,741,010,339,0100,0Total20,528,615,135,9100,0No identification11,628,112,747,6100,0Total11,030,212,846,1100,0pChi2

    1: n.s.= not significant; *=p<0,1; **=p<0,05; ***=p<0,01

    Source: survey OVP-2003

Left and right

    The analysis of the position of respondents on the left-right axis further reinforces the hypothesis that people‟s judgments of political transgression are necessarily linked to specific political contexts. We asked them to position themselves on a left-right axis of 0 to 10, recoding the variable in 6 categories, also taking into account those who prefer not to/do not know how to position themselves at all.

    In both Switzerland and Italy, the “intransigents” are concentrated above all toward the left or centre-

    left, though more clearly in Italy (table 3). Meanwhile, the Italians who position themselves to the centre-right and especially to the right belong preponderantly to the “indulgent” category. It is nevertheless worth noting a division that exists among the Italians: a significant percentage of those who place themselves at the centre-right are not more tolerant toward political wrongdoing, even when

    politicians respect his/her electoral promises. Overall, however, those who consider themselves as belonging to the centre-right or right are very hesitant to demand the suspension of a politician accused of corruption. In the Italian sample, the problem of moral reputation seems therefore confirmed as an integrated aspect of the clash between political opponents, even by the citizens. This is not the case in Switzerland, where those aligned with the right tend to accept a certain degree of moral transgression from politicians, but only to the point where it does not sully their public reputation. For the most part, analysis of the party allegiances confirms what we find with the left-right axis. Supporters of the Italian centre-right and, to a lesser extent, those of the Northern League are divided amongst themselves: some accept transgression from politicians, others condemn it; both groups reject in general the need to suspend a politician accused of corruption. In Switzerland, the configuration is different insofar as supporters of the Ticino League belong largely to the “indulgent” category.


    Adherents of the centrist Liberal-Radical Party (PLRT) have held political sway over Canton Ticino for many decades (today with more than 30% of the electorate) accept transgression of common morality in the name of electoral promises, yet support the premise that a politician accused of corruption should be removed from office. On the contrary, supporters of Socialists and Green parties tend to be highly “legalists”, creating a paradoxical convergence, at least on the surface, with a significant part of the Italian centre-right.

    In short, regarding our main issue, in both contexts the supporters of so-called “populist” parties,

    generally oriented toward the right, do not see the moral transgression of politicians in the same way. In Canton Ticino, there would seem to be more “indulgence”, while in Italy there appears to be a defensive “legalistic” reaction against the principle that the accusation of corruption is enough to justify

    removal from office. In any case, the analysis confirms only partially our hypothesis: the supporters of these “populist” parties tend to be more pragmatic and tolerant than other supporters, and less

    disposed to condemn political corruption. These results suggest that the anti-corruption rhetoric used by the leaders of these parties does not necessarily affect their supporters, independently of context. In the Swiss and Italian political field, supporters of the Leagues are in fact among those most inclined to accept that politicians need not follow rigid moral rules. To what extent does tolerance toward politicians derive from moral criteria that belong more generally to the public and private spheres? Specifically, can we claim that League supporters are more indulgent in other areas of life as well?

Public and private morality

    Let us ask first of all if the varying tolerance toward political wrongdoing can be connected to specific beliefs, value systems and cultural norms shared by citizens. One approach to examining this aspect is to ask if one‟s judgments of politicians are connected to a moral code drawn from the principles of

    everyday life, whether public or private. As we know, political corruption is a complex concept with many possible definitions. A classic interpretation, founded on the principle of shared interest, sees it as any behaviour by a public official that deviates from accepted norms in order to serve private interests (Huntington 1968). Therefore it becomes essential to understand the criteria that constitute “accepted norms”. Working from cues provided by an ample selection of sociological texts (Inglehart 1977; Arts

    & Halman 2004; Sciolla 2004), we attempt to examine the civicness features in the two bordering regions. Our study makes it possible to understand the extent to which the following potentially deviant acts are always, sometimes or never justifiable: declaring lower income to the tax office; not paying

    for public transport; not voting; paying a public official to get a job; killing in self-defence;

    paying for sex; not separating rubbish for recycling; extramarital relations; feigning illness to

    4stay home from work.

     4 The question was formulated as follows: “You will find below a list of rather widespread acts. Could you please tell us if

    each of these acts are for you never or always justified, using a scale from 1 (never justified act) to 7 (always justified act).


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