Ulric B. and Evelyn L. Bray Seminar in Political Economy
Experimenting with Legitimacy: How Leaders' Choices about Group Profiling and Error Reduction Affect Compliance
Ongoing debates about law enforcement practices in the United States highlight the importance of citizen perceptions of the legitimacy of the state in affecting citizen behavior. Legitimate institutions may enhance citizen compliance with the law and cooperation with law enforcement. While many scholars have argued that leaders' choices or institutions can enhance legitimacy, those choices and rules may also affect other reasons that citizens comply (e.g., deterrence). We present novel experimental evidence using behavioral games to understand how a leader's decision to use group identity in targeting law enforcement (i.e., racial profiling) or to pursue less error prone enforcement affect citizen behavior. Crucially, features of these designs allow us to isolate legitimacy from other instrumental concerns in explaining differences in citizen behavior. In both student and more representative samples we find evidence about the importance of legitimacy concerns in explaining compliance behavior.