Adhering to high ethical standards and being morally upright might sometimes be incompatible with governing effectively. In some situations, politicians must decide between adopting a utilitarian decision (a decision that, even if it contravenes moral principles, leads to the optimal outcome and the maximization of aggregate welfare) or a deontological decision (a decision guided by the idea that there are moral standards that should never be violated, even if violating them would lead to a maximization of aggregate welfare). In this paper I analyze if the way in which politicians react to this type of dilemmas is consequential for how citizens evaluate them. The empirical analyses draw on a survey experiment based on a sacrificial moral dilemma applied to a political crisis. The experiment was included in a survey with 1,000 respondents fielded in Spain. Through this survey experiment I examine participants’ evaluations of a fictitious politician that in the context of a terrorist threat makes either a utilitarian judgement and decision (it is better to save 50 people, even if it involves sacrificing 10 innocent people) or a deontological judgement and decision (purposefully sacrificing 10 innocent people is just morally wrong, even if it saves 50 people). The results of the experiment indicate that politicians who adopt a deontological decision are more trusted and better evaluated, but the effect of adopting either a deontological or utilitarian decision on the evaluations of politicians is moderated by individuals’ left-right ideology.
Read the blogpost summarizing some results here.