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Adrienne Warren

The Global Corruption Barometer: Is Perceiving Believing?

Transparency International released its annual Global Corruption Barometer–the largest world-wide public opinion survey on corruption. It examines people’s direct experiences with bribery and their perceptions of corruption in the main institutions of their countries, based on interviews with 114,270 people in 107 countries. The TI Barometer has been met with mixed reviews, raising questions about just how reliable such statistics are when based on perceptions. takes a deeper look at the index and the attempt to measure the immeasurable…

Dirty Money. author: Alex Montadan. source: Flickr

Dirty Money. author: Alex Montadan. source: Flickr

Claudio Weber Abramo, of Transparency Brazil, elaborates on the difficulty of relying on perceptions as a foundation for empirical studies:

“Perceptions of corruption are often taken as reliable proxies for the actual phenomenon of corruption occurring in countries. Regressions and tests performed on data from the Global Corruption  Barometer 2004 (GCB),1 however, show that personal or household experience of bribery is not in fact a good predictor of perceptions held about corruption among the general population.”

Abramo continues:

“Corruption is hard to study empirically. Its many likely determinants interrelate in complicated ways […] As with other types of criminal activity, it is hard to observe directly, and so researchers must rely on surveys of corruption’s victims, the accuracy of which is often difficult to assess.”

Abramo further highlights the danger that such perception indices can present in shaping public opinion, often without a solid basis in fact:

“Every time these indices are announced, they are presented in the press as indices “of corruption”. More often than not, the “perceptions” part is forgotten. This leads most lay persons to take such indices as reflecting actual levels of corruption affecting countries – even if, as pointed out by many authors, the meaning of “actual level of corruption” is not at all clear. Taking perceptions as indications of actual phenomena by default can become a habit.”

Transparency International’s Corruption Barometer has been met with much debate, echoing Abramo’s concerns about the use of “perception” as a measuring tool. Perhaps to illustrate the point, let’s look at TI’s perception data as it applies solely to solely to Eastern Europe (infographic shown below, please note Belarus was not included in the barometer). According to TI’s perception measurements, Lithuania and Ukraine are vying for the most corrupt nations across the chart, while Azerbaijan and Estonia are competing for the least corrupt, with the consistently lowest averages in each category.

If we compare such results with other indices, which similarly measure issues like democracy, transparency and press freedom, the data does not match up. For example, look at the recently released Democracy Index, all three Baltic States, were categorised as Consolidated Democracy, while Azerbaijan was defined as a Consolidated Authoritarian Regime.

Likewise, according to the Index of Economic Freedom 2013, which also measures how widespread corruption, bribery and other financial crimes are in a country, listed Estonia as 13th in the world for economic freedom, with Azerbaijan trailing far behind at 88th, and listed as a “mostly unfree” economy.

Yet perception-based data would have us believe that such figures are not manifested in reality, as one critic of the results for the Netherlands writes:

“I have some doubts about this barometer. While acknowledging that perceptions of corruption may drive change, how to view an entire nation that misconceives corruption? I have yet to find a single Dutch person, for instance, who will hold Royal Dutch Shell to be equally corrupt as the Nigerian government it bribes. The Dutch will call bankers ‘freeloaders’ and politicians ‘self-interested’ but never corrupt. Yet, having lived in many countries, I find The Netherlands one of the most corrupt of all, in every sector of its society.”

What do you think?

sources: Transparency International, economics-ejournal

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Graduated in International Relations and Russian. Resident of Estonia, but a citizen of the world. Most interested in contributing to the progress and education of mankind--as the primary tool of achieving global unity.

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