Book chapter

Electoral Clientelism and Vote Buying (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Political competition between parties to win electoral support is a distinguishing feature of democratic forms of government. Parties seek to attract electoral support with programmatic promises (public goods, services) for the benefit of all citizens as well as targeted redistribution in several countries, broadly termed as "clientelistic linkages." Cash, gifts and nonmaterial goods such as jobs, exclusive access to public services are forms of clientelistic goods discussed in the literature. Studies on clientelism have spiked since the last quarter of the 20th century in several disciplines including political science and economics. The studies have clarified the definitions and distinguished between the various forms of clientelism while shedding light on how parties decide to adopt the clientelistic approach, the form of benefits offered, whether groups or individuals are targeted for clientelistic benefits, the mechanisms that solve the political commitment problem inherent in clientelistic relationships, and the correlates and consequences of clientelism. The section on theory outlines a spatial model that predicts when political parties will target swing or core supporters for redistributive benefits. The advances in empirical methods for studying clientelism and vote buying, including experimental methods have provided evidence that politicians target swing or core supporters and at times adopt mixed strategies favoring both groups. The burgeoning empirical literature has clarified the effectiveness of vote-buying as well as anti-vote buying campaigns. A direct relationship between poverty and vote buying is now contested and it is evident that further research, particularly those tying up theory with empirical findings is required to understand clientelism and vote buying.