Clientelism and voting behavior

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CLIENTELISM AND VOTING BEHAVIOR Evidence from a Field Experiment in Benin
By LEONARD WANTCHEKON*

I. INTRODUCTION OMPARATIVE politics scholars have long considered electoral politics in Africa to be systematically and inherently clientelist. African rulers, whether self-appointed or democratically elected, rely on the distribution of personal favors to selected members of the electorate inexchange for ongoing political support.1 This observation relies on the implicit assumption that African voters invariably have a much stronger preference for private transfers than for public goods or projects of national interest. This article reports on the use of experimental methods to test several hypotheses pertaining to electoral clientelism in Benin in order to investigate the determinantsof the voters’ demand for public goods. The strategy consists of a unique field experiment organized in the context of the first round of the March 2001 presidential elections in Benin and in which randomly selected villages were exposed to “purely” clientelist and “purely” public policy platforms. The experiment is unique in the sense that it involves real presidential candidates compet* I wouldlike to thank Kuassi Degboe, Mathias Hounkpe, Gregoire Kpekpede, Gilles Kossou, Herve Lahamy, Francis Laleye, the leaderships of the political parties involved in the experiment (RB, UDS, FARD-Alafia, and PSD), many others at the Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Economique and at the Institut Geographique National in Benin whose logistical support and assistance made the experimentpossible. Thanks also to Jennifer Gandhi for superb research assistance, to Tamar Asadurian, Sophie Bade, Feryal Cherif, Donald Green, Paul Ngomo, Adam Przeworski, Melissa Schwartzberg, Susan Stokes, Carolyn Warner, and seminar participants at Stanford University for comments. Finally, special thanks to the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University for generous financial supportand to Donald Green for continuous encouragement. 1 See, among others, Robert Bates, Markets and States in Tropical Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982); Jean-François Bayart, L’Etat en Afrique: la politique du ventre (Paris: Fayard, 1989); C. James Scott, “Patron-Client Politics and Political Change in Southeast Asia,” American Political Science Review 66 (March 1972); andMichael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle, “Neopatrimonial Regimes and Political Transitions in Africa,” World Politics 46 ( July 1994).

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World Politics 55 (April 2003), 399–422

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ing in real elections. To the best of my knowledge, it is the first ever nationwide experimental study of voter behavior involving real candidates using experimental platforms. A number ofquestions are considered. Given ethnic affiliation, does the type of message (clientelist or public policy) have an effect on voting behavior? Is clientelism always a winning strategy? Which types of message give incumbents or opposition a comparative advantage? Are female voters as likely as male voters to respond to clientelism? Are younger voters more likely than older voters to respond toclientelism? Clientelism is defined as transactions between politicians and citizens whereby material favors are offered in return for political support at the polls. Thus, clientelism is a form of interest-group politics that has been the focus of a large body of literature in American and European politics.2 However, while the standard interest-group politics takes place in the context of organizedcompetition among groups that could eventually lead to the representation of a variety of interests by one political party, clientelism is characterized by the representation of narrow corporatist and local interests. In addition, while the influence of interest groups tends to be filtered by the mechanisms of checks and balances, those mechanisms tend to be absent or ineffective in the context of...
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