Skip to main content

How Clients Select Brokers: Competition and Choice in India's Slums


Conventional models of clientelism often assume poor voters have little or no choice over which local broker to turn to for help. Yet communities in many clientelistic settings are marked by multiple brokers who compete for a following. Such competition makes client choices, and the preferences guiding such choices, pivotal in fueling broker support. We examine client preferences for a pervasive broker—slum leaders—in the context of urban India. To identify resident preferences for slum leaders, we conducted an ethnographically informed conjoint survey experiment with 2,199 residents across 110 slums in two Indian cities. Contra standard emphases on shared ethnicity, we find residents place heaviest weight on a broker's capability to make claims on the state. A survey of 629 slum leaders finds client-preferred traits distinguish brokers from residents. In highlighting processes of broker selection, and the client preferences that undergird them, we underscore the centrality of clients in shaping local brokerage environments.

Corresponding author
Adam Michael Auerbach is an Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20016 (
Tariq Thachil is an Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Vanderbilt University, 230 Appleton Place, Nashville, TN 37203 (
Hide All

This study was preregistered with Evidence in Governance and Politics (20150619AA) and received IRB approval from American University (15098) and Yale University (1504015671). The authors thank Ameya Balsekar, Leticia Bode, Natalia Bueno, Aditya Dasgupta, Agustina Giraudy, Anirudh Krishna, Gareth Nellis, Irfan Nooruddin, David Ohls, Kelly Rader, Mark Schneider, Susan Stokes, Yuhki Tajima, Emmanuel Teitelbaum, Milan Vaishnav, Michael Walton, Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro, Ashutosh Varshney, Erik Wibbels, Adam Ziegfeld, and seminar participants at American University; the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi; Duke University; Georgetown University; Harvard University; MIT; the New School; the University of Pennsylvania; the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Yale University. Ved Prakash Sharma and the MORSEL survey team provided excellent research assistance. This research was funded by American University, Vanderbilt University, and Yale University. Replication files are available on the American Political Science Review Dataverse:

Hide All
Adida, Claire, Gottlieb, Jessica, Kramon, Eric, and McClendon, Gwyneth. 2017. “Reducing or Reinforcing In-Group Preferences? An Experiment on Information and Ethnic Voting.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 12 (4): 437–77.
Auerbach, Adam Michael. 2016. “Clients and Communities: The Political Economy of Party Network Organization and Development in India's Urban Slums.” World Politics 68 (1): 111–48.
Auerbach, Adam Michael. 2017. “Neighborhood Associations and the Urban Poor: India's Slum Development Committees.” World Development 96: 119–35.
Auyero, Javier. 2000. Poor People's Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.
Berenschot, Ward. 2010. “Everyday Mediation.” Development and Change 41 (5): 883905.
Burgwal, Gerrit. 1995. Struggle of the Poor. Amsterdam: CEDLA.
Bussell, Jennifer. 2018. Clients and Constituents. Book Manuscript: University of California, Berkeley.
Calvo, Ernesto, and Murillo, Maria Victoria. 2013. “When Parties Meet Voters.” Comparative Political Studies 46 (7): 851–82.
Camp, Edwin. 2015. “Cultivating Effective Brokers.” British Journal of Political Science 47 (3): 521–43.
Carlson, Elizabeth. 2015. “Ethnic Voting and Accountability in Africa.” World Politics 67 (2): 353–85.
Chandra, Kanchan. 2004. Why Ethnic Parties Succeed. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Chauchard, Simon. 2016. “Unpacking Ethnic Preferences.” Comparative Political Studies 49 (2): 253–84.
Collier, David. 1976. Squatters and Oligarchs. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Cornelius, Wayne. 1975. Politics and the Migrant Poor in Mexico City. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Cox, Gary, and McCubbins, Matthew. 1986. “Electoral Politics as a Redistributive Game.” Journal of Politics 48 (2): 370–89.
Dunning, Thad, and Nilekani, Janhavi. 2013. “Ethnic Quotas and Political Mobilization.” American Political Science Review 107 (1): 3556.
Fershtman, Chaim, and Gneezy, Uri. 2001. “Discrimination in a Segmented Society.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 116 (1): 351–77.
Gans-Morse, Jordan, Mazzuca, Sebastian, and Nichter, Simeon. 2014. “Varieties of Clientelism.” American Journal of Political Science 58 (2): 415–32.
Gay, Robert. 1994. Popular Organization and Democracy in Rio de Janeiro. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Gilbert, Alan. 1998. The Latin American City (2nd Edition). London: Latin America Bureau.
Gingerich, Daniel, and Medina, Luis. 2013. “The Endurance and Eclipse of the Controlled Vote.” Economics and Politics 25 (3): 453–80.
Gonzalez-Ocantos, Ezequiel, de Jonge, Chad Kiewiet, Melendez, Carlos, Osorio, Javier, and Nickerson, David. 2012. “Vote-Buying and Social Desirability Bias.” American Journal of Political Science 56 (1): 202–17.
Hainmueller, Jens, and Hopkins, Daniel. 2015. “The Hidden American Immigration Consensus.” American Journal of Political Science 59 (3): 529–48.
Hainmueller, Jens, Hopkins, Daniel, and Yamamoto, Teppei. 2014. “Causal Inference in Conjoint Analysis.” Political Analysis 22 (1): 130.
Hilgers, Tina. 2012. Clientelism in Everyday Latin American Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Holland, Alisha, and Palmer-Rubin, Brian. 2015. “Beyond the Machine.” Comparative Political Studies 48 (9): 1186–223.
Jeffrey, Craig. 2010. Timepass. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Jha, Saumitra, Rao, Vijayendra, and Woolcock, Michael. 2007. “Governance in the Gullies.” World Development 35 (2): 230–46.
Kitschelt, Herbert. 2011. “Clientelistic Linkage Strategies.” Working Paper: Duke University.
Krishna, Anirudh. 2002. Active Social Capital. New York: Columbia University Press.
Kruks-Wisner, Gabrielle. 2018. “The Pursuit of Social Welfare.” World Politics 70 (1): 122–63.
Larreguy, Horacio, Marshall, John, and Querubin, Pablo. 2016. “Parties, Brokers, and Voter Mobilization.” American Political Science Review 110 (1): 160–79.
Manor, James. 2000. “Small-Time Fixers in India's States.” Asian Survey 40 (5): 816–35.
Nichter, Simeon. 2008. “Vote Buying or Turnout Buying?American Political Science Review 102 (1): 1931.
Nichter, Simeon. 2014. “Conceptualizing Vote Buying.” Electoral Studies 35: 315–27.
Nichter, Simeon, and Peress, Michael. 2017. “Request Fulfilling.” Comparative Political Studies 50 (8): 1086–117.
Posner, Daniel. 2005. Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Post, Alison. 2018. “Cities and Politics in the Developing World.” Annual Review of Political Science 21: 115–33.
Ray, Talton. 1969. The Politics of the Barrios of Venezuela. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Rueda, Miguel. 2015. “Buying Votes with Imperfect Local Knowledge and a Secret Ballot.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 27 (3): 428–56.
Scott, James. 1977. “Patron-Client Politics and Political Change in Southeast Asia.” In Friends, Followers, Factions. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Stokes, Susan. 1995. Cultures in Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Stokes, Susan. 2005. “Perverse Accountability.” American Political Science Review 9 (3): 315–25.
Stokes, Susan, Dunning, Thad, Nazareno, Marcelo, and Brusco, Valeria. 2013. Brokers, Voters, and Clientelism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Szwarcberg, Mariela. 2015. Mobilizing Poor Voters. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Taylor-Robinson, Michelle. 2010. Do the Poor Count? University Park: Penn State Press.
Thachil, Tariq. 2017. “Do Rural Migrants Divide Ethnically in the City? Evidence from an Ethnographic Experiment in India.” American Journal of Political Science 61 (4): 908–26.
Thachil, Tariq. Forthcoming. “Improving Surveys Through Ethnography: Insights from India's Urban Periphery.” Studies in Comparative International Development.
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. 2015. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision (ST/ESA/SER.A/366).
Wilkinson, Steven. 2004. Votes and Violence. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Zarazaga, Rodrigo. 2014. “Brokers Beyond Clientelism.” Latin American Politics and Society 56 (3): 2344.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Auerbach and Thachil Dataset

Supplementary materials

Auerbach and Thachil supplementary material
Auerbach and Thachil supplementary material 1

 Word (23.8 MB)
23.8 MB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed