Opening the door to anti-system leaders? Anti-corruption campaigns and the global rise of populism

Nic Cheeseman, Caryn Peiffer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Almost all anti-corruption drives contain an awareness raising element. However, recent research reveals that anti-corruption awareness raising messages can backfire by triggering a sense that corruption is too big of a problem to tackle, thus encouraging resignation rather than resistance. We advance this literature by exploring another potential unintended impact. Corruption scandals have played a prominent role in the rise of many populist leaders, who claim to challenge ‘the corrupt status quo’. We test whether anti-corruption messages that call attention to the problem unintentionally help to foster populist attitudes through an original survey experiment in Albania. Breaking new ground by testing messages based on descriptive (how the world is) and injunctive (how people want it to be) norms, we find that while the latter has no effect, exposure to the former – which is more common in contemporary anti-corruption campaigns – is associated with greater agreement with populist sentiments and beliefs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
Early online date24 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. European Journal of Political Research published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of European Consortium for Political Research.

Structured keywords

  • SPS Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research


  • populism
  • corruption
  • anti-system
  • democracy
  • descriptive norms
  • injunctive norms
  • Albania


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