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Votes for Survival
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Book description

Across the world, many politicians deliver benefits to citizens in direct exchange for their votes. Scholars often predict the demise of this phenomenon, as it is threatened by economic development, ballot secrecy and other daunting challenges. To explain its resilience, this book shifts attention to the demand side of exchanges. Nichter contends that citizens play a crucial but underappreciated role in the survival of relational clientelism - ongoing exchange relationships that extend beyond election campaigns. Citizens often undertake key actions, including declared support and requesting benefits, to sustain these relationships. As most of the world's population remains vulnerable to adverse shocks, citizens often depend on such relationships when the state fails to provide an adequate social safety net. Nichter demonstrates the critical role of citizens with fieldwork and original surveys in Brazil, as well as with comparative evidence from Argentina, Mexico and other continents.


'Based on extraordinary quantitative and qualitative research, Votes for Survival helps us understand why clientelism persists and how it has evolved. Whereas most studies focus narrowly on vote buying, Nichter shows that relational clientelism has proven especially robust. The book also teaches us that contemporary clients are not the passive and oft-manipulated objects that many studies depict them to be. Economically vulnerable despite rising incomes, voters play a major role in perpetuating clientelism. Many books have been written about clientelism in Latin America. This one is the best I have read.'

Steve Levitsky - Harvard University, Massachusetts

'Nichter breaks new ground in the analysis of clientelism by focusing on the micrologics that drive durable exchange relations. His work highlights the demand side of clients’ deliberate choices. Meticulous qualitative and quantitative research on Brazil demonstrates empirical payoffs. Nichter also demonstrates with empirical examples from different continents the potential for generalizability. A must-read for anyone studying citizen-politician linkage relations.'

Herbert Kitschelt - Duke University, North Carolina

'Despite decades of studies, we know little about how clientelist systems sustain themselves in a time of rising incomes and institutional reforms. This marvelous book will change that. Treating clientelism as an exchange that repeats itself over time, it draws our attention to why citizens demand benefits, and how they signal support to and secure credible commitments from politicians. Few books change the way we think about major themes in comparative politics. This will be one.'

Frances Hagopian - Harvard University, Massachusetts

'An outstanding piece of scholarship, Nichter’s book focuses attention on the demand side of clientelism. This rich and illuminating book should be read by all those interested in distributive politics in the developing world.'

Thad Dunning - University of California, Berkeley

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