in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
Clientelism is a type of nonprogrammatic linkage strategy that political parties deploy to win elections. Specifically, the concept refers to the personalized and discretionary exchange of goods or favors for political support. Scholars of comparative politics investigate variation in the prevalence of clientelism across countries, as well as the organizations that parties create to distribute personalized gifts and favors. A large body of work also studies the types of voters more commonly targeted by machines. The debates about the determinants of clientelism and specific targeting patterns are important because they inform broader discussions about democratic quality in Latin America and other developing regions, where nonprogrammatic linkages such as clientelism are common. In particular, the literature on clientelism has implications for discussions about the use and misuse of public and private funds to support electoral efforts. It also raises questions about the ability of citizens to vote their conscience and hold politicians accountable in the privacy of the voting booth.