Vulnerability and Clientelism

Produced by: 
National Bureau of Economic Research
Available from: 
July 2017
Paper author(s): 
Gustavo J. Bobonis
Paul Gertler
Marco Gonzalez-Navarro
Simeon Nichter
Topic: 
Globalization - Trade
Microeconomics - Competition - Productivity
Year: 
2017

Political clientelism is often deemed to undermine democratic accountability and representation. This study argues that economic vulnerability causes citizens to participate in clientelism. We test this hypothesis with a randomized control trial that reduced household vulnerability through a development intervention: constructing residential water cisterns in drought-prone areas of Northeast Brazil. This exogenous reduction in vulnerability significantly decreased requests for private benefits from local politicians, especially by citizens likely to be involved in clientelistic relationships. We also link program beneficiaries to granular voting outcomes, and show that this reduction in vulnerability decreased votes for incumbent mayors, who typically have more resources to engage in clientelism. Our evidence points to a persistent reduction in clientelism, given that findings are observed not only during an election campaign, but also a full year later.

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