"If Foreign, Then Cleaner": Individual Corruption Perceptions and Support for Free Trade in Developing Nations

Published in International Studies Quarterly, 2024

Extant literature on public opinion in international political economy documents the role that domestic corruption perceptions play in the formation of mass attitudes toward a range of integration-related foreign policies. Based on this precedent, we conjecture that corruption perceptions also affect opinions toward free trade. We build on a heuristic approach to attitude formation where individual perceptions of corruption among the political elite trigger positive attitudes toward foreign countries, firms, and products, what we refer to as a “foreignness cue.” This cue drives individuals with high perceptions of corruption to be more supportive of free trade. Based on survey data from eighteen Latin American countries, we demonstrate that higher levels of perceived domestic corruption are associated with greater support for free trade. Causal mediation analysis provides additional evidence that positive attitudes toward foreign countries and firms are a conduit through which the corruption perceptions effect operates. We also offer evidence of external validity of the main effect by analyzing additional surveys on a distinct set of less and more developed countries. Our heuristic-based model of support for free trade complements theories based on material self-interest as a basis for attitude formation in the realm of trade policy.

Recommended citation: Shi, Dihan, and Guillermo Rosas. 2024. "‘If Foreign, Then Cleaner’: Individual Corruption Perceptions and Support for Free Trade in Developing Nations." International Studies Quarterly 68 (3): sqae079. https://doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqae079.
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