When Corruption Investigations Come to Nothing: A Natural Experiment on Trust in Courts
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Description: Corruption scandals and their investigation have been shown to undermine support not only for the allegedly involved public officials but also for political actors and institutions more generally. However, we know little about what happens when those investigations end up failing to result in punishments. Is citizens’ trust in the legal authorities in charge of prosecuting and punishing corruption undermined? Do those effects spill over to political actors, institutions, and even the political regime? We address these questions by taking advantage of an April 2021 judicial decision to drop corruption charges against former Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates during the fieldwork of a public opinion survey. We show that the decision had a substantial negative impact on public trust in the courts. Furthermore, although political trust was not immediately affected, its overall levels also became lower in comparison to periods before the judicial decision, suggesting a spillover effect.