Why Vote with the Chief? Political Connections and Public Goods Provision in Zambia


  • The author is grateful for feedback on earlier versions from Thad Dunning, Tim Frye, Fred Greenstein, John Huber, Macartan Humphreys, Kimuli Kasara, Carmen Le Foulon, Victoria Murillo, Virginia Oliveros, Alexandra Scacco, David Stasavage, Leonard Wantchekon, Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro, and Matthew Winters. Jean Cheelo, Patrick Engaenga, Rickson Kanema, Sepo Lemba, Nkhatazo Lungu, Njekwa Mate, Golden Mutenda, Enock Msoni, Dominic Nzala, and Peter Soko provided excellent research assistance in Zambia. The research was supported by a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellowship, a grant from the Center for International Business Education and Research at Columbia University, and a Dracopoulos Fellowship. Part of the writing was completed while the author was a fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Center for Political Economy at New York University, a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University, and an assistant professor at the University of Florida. This research was approved by the Columbia University Institutional Review Board as Protocol IRB-AAAC3883(Y1M00). The data used in the study are available via the AJPS DataVerse site.


Why are voters influenced by the views of local patrons when casting their ballots? The existing literature suggests that coercion and personal obligations underpin this form of clientelism, causing voters to support candidates for reasons tangential to political performance. However, voters who support candidates preferred by local patrons may be making sophisticated political inferences. In many developing countries, elected politicians need to work with local patrons to deliver resources to voters, giving voters good reason to consider their patron's opinions of candidates. This argument is tested using data from an original survey of traditional chiefs and an experiment involving voters in Zambia. Chiefs and politicians with stronger relationships collaborate more effectively to provide local public goods. Furthermore, voters are particularly likely to vote with their chief if they perceive the importance of chiefs and politicians working jointly for local development.