Keeping them honest: Public and elite perceptions of ethical conduct among Australian legislators

Ian McAllister*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    36 Citations (Scopus)


    Public confidence in politicians across all democratic countries has fallen to historic lows in recent years. In Australia, around one in three voters believe that legislators use their public office for financial gain, and only one in four believe that legislators have a high moral code. Governments in many countries have attempted to deal with this problem by establishing codes of ethical conduct for legislators. This paper examines what standards citizens expect from their politicians and, in turn, what standards politicians themselves regard as important. The data come from the 1996 Australian Election Study survey which asked voters and elected representatives what importance they attributed to the eight principles laid out in the federal parliament's own ethical guide. The results show that voters expect higher standards from legislators than do legislators themselves, particularly with regard to the proper use of public resources and rejecting favouritism. A range of hypotheses are tested to account for citizen and elite beliefs about legislators' ethical conduct. The results show that stronger democratic culture and political skills are important for the public, and lengthy exposure to political parties and democratic institutions for the elite.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)22-37
    Number of pages16
    JournalPolitical Studies
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2000


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