Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 9 > Issue 3

Guarding the Guardians: Legislative Self-Policing and Electoral Corruption in Victorian Britain

Andrew C. Eggers, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, andrew.eggers@nuffield.ox.ac.uk , Arthur Spirling, Department of Government and Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Harvard University, USA, aspirling@gov.harvard.edu
Suggested Citation
Andrew C. Eggers and Arthur Spirling (2014), "Guarding the Guardians: Legislative Self-Policing and Electoral Corruption in Victorian Britain", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 9: No. 3, pp 337-370. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00013098

Publication Date: 18 Sep 2014
© 2014 A. C. Eggers and A. Spirling
Law and economics,  Elections,  Political corruption,  Political history


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In this article:
1. Introduction 
2. Adjudicating Election Petitions in Victorian Britain 
3. Adjudicatory Error and the Prevalence of Electoral Corruption 
4. Partisanship and Adjudicatory Error 
5. Did Judicialization Deter Corruption? 
6. Conclusion 
Appendix A.1: Analysis of Model 
Appendix A.2: Alternative assumptions about costs 
Appendix B: Balance tests 


We offer an institutional explanation for the dramatic decline in corrupt practices that characterizes British political development in the mass suffrage era. Parliamentary candidates who faced corruption charges were judged by tribunals of sitting MPs until 1868, when this responsibility was passed to the courts. We draw on theory and empirical evidence to demonstrate that delegating responsibility over corruption trials to judges was an important institutional step in cleaning up elections. By focusing on an institutional explanation for Victorian electoral corruption (and its demise), we provide an account that complements the existing literature while offering clearer implications for contemporary policy debates.