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What Wins Votes: Why Some Politicians Opt Out of Clientelism


  • Thanks to Javier Auyero, Kate Baldwin, Tulia Falleti, Brian Fried, Christopher Gang, Shigeo Hirano, John Huber, Robert Kaufman, Pauline Jones Luong, María Victoria Murillo, Alexandra Scacco, Richard Snyder, Tariq Thachil, Matt Winters, Cesar Zucco, and four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. Participants at seminars at Yale, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brown also provided valuable feedback. An NSF dissertation improvement grant (0615547) and grants from the Columbia University’s Center for International Business Education and Research and Institute for Latin American Studies helped fund this research. All errors are my own. Replication data are available at

Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro is Stanley J. Bernstein Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Brown University, 36 Prospect St., Providence, RI 02912 (


In a context where clientelism is widespread, why do some politicians choose not to condition the delivery of goods and services to citizens on individual political behavior? I argue that the answer to this question lies in the heretofore unexamined electoral costs of clientelism: clientelism decreases support from nonpoor constituents even while it generates votes from among the poor. Taking into account these costs and other factors that shape politician incentives, I posit that the interaction between political competition and poverty will explain variation in clientelism. I test this claim using an original measure of clientelism that assesses mayoral involvement in social policy implementation in Argentine municipalities. The results of statistical analysis suggest that high levels of political competition are compatible with clientelism when poverty is also high. Only when high competition is coupled with low rates of poverty does clientelism decline.