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Distributive Politics with Vote and Turnout Buying


The objective of this paper is to model the incumbent’s allocation of efforts that maximize his electoral chances in the presence of both vote buying (persuasion) and turnout buying (mobilization). The existing literature on distributive politics concludes that political candidates should concentrate their campaigning efforts either on safe districts or on swing districts. This paper shows that when candidates can use both persuasion and mobilization strategies, and the ideology of voters is unknown to the incumbent party, a third option should be taken into account. In fact, the optimal allocation of resources—rather than focusing on safe or swing districts—should target opposition strongholds, that is, the incumbent should try to sway voters in those districts in which the challenger is favored. The intuition for this result is simple. Since the incumbent does not know individual preferences (he only observes the distribution of preferences in the districts), all voters in a given district look identical to him. Hence, when approaching voters in a district to buy their vote, the incumbent always faces the risk of buying the vote of his supporters (who would have voted for him anyway).

Corresponding author
Agustin Casas is an Assistant Professor at Colegio Universitario de Estudios Financieros (CUNEF), Calle Leonardo Prieto Castro, 2, Madrid, 28040, Spain (
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I am grateful to David Austen-Smith and Steve Callander, who were very patient at the early stages of this project. I also thank Bard Harstad, Antoine Loeper and Andrea Mattozzi and seminar and conference participants at several institutions for useful comments and suggestions. I also benefited greatly from the comments of three anonymous referees and the editor. All possible remaining errors are my own.

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American Political Science Review
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