So THAT’S Why Illinois is More Corrupt than Colorado

by Categorized: Data, Media, Politics Date:

Here’s an intriguing theory out of Harvard: A new study suggests there is more corruption in states where the capital city is located far from major population centers, in part because statehouses in more remote spots are likely to have fewer news reporters scrutinizing politicians.

We’ll pause here, so all of you can say: “Yeah, but that doesn’t explain Connecticut…”

Hartford’s corruption woes notwithstanding, Filipe Campante, an assistant professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, makes an intriguing statistics-based case. By examining population data and counts of federally convicted politicians, Campante and co-author Quoc-Anh Do of Singapore Management University find that statehouses away from the largest population centers – think Springfield, Ill. or Albany, N.Y. – breed more scandals than statehouses located in major metropolitan areas.

In addition to receiving less media attention, remote statehouses were also found to be associated with lower voter turnout and poorer provision of services, which the researchers see as further evidence that isolated capital cities yields less government accountability.

The study, naturally, has only 50 data points, and the researchers acknowledge that there may be a variety of complicated factors affecting a state’s level of political corruption. But the paper is based on serious research, including the use of a population measure the authors refer to as “Gravity-based Centered Index of Spatial Concentration,” which deserves high marks all its own.

The Harvard study comes two months after the Center for Public Integrity released a 50-state report, measuring “corruption risk indicators” from coast to coast. That report, which analyzed transparency, accountability and anti-corruption rules, gave Connecticut the second-highest marks in the nation, saying the state’s “spectacular corruption” had led to strong accountability measures, at least on paper.

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