Do Indirect Taxes Bite? How Hiding Taxes Erases Accountability Demands from Citizens

Brandon de la Cuesta, Lucy Martin, Helen V. Milner, Daniel L. Nielson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Taxation is fundamental to citizen-government relations. Seminal accounts attribute democratization to direct taxation’s rise, and recent evidence shows that direct taxes increase citizens’ accountability demands. However, today many governments rely heavily on indirect taxes; evidence is mixed on whether they have similar effects. We present cross-national data demon-strating that indirect taxes are associated with lower levels of government accountability than direct taxes. We argue that the visibility of taxes affects their accountability consequences. We further posit that, on average, indirect taxes become less visible than direct once citizens have acclimated to higher prices. We combine lab-in-the-field experiments with survey experiments in a developing country to demonstrate that less visible taxes provoke less willingness to punish leaders politically and that established indirect taxes are not highly visible to citizens. The findings suggest that the growing reliance on indirect taxes may limit taxation’s accountability dividends and impair democratic representation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1305-1320
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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