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Perverse Accountability: A Formal Model of Machine Politics with Evidence from Argentina

  • SUSAN C. STOKES (a1)

Political machines (or clientelist parties) mobilize electoral support by trading particularistic benefits to voters in exchange for their votes. But if the secret ballot hides voters' actions from the machine, voters are able to renege, accepting benefits and then voting as they choose. To explain how machine politics works, I observe that machines use their deep insertion into voters' social networks to try to circumvent the secret ballot and infer individuals' votes. When parties influence how people vote by threatening to punish them for voting for another party, I call this accountability. I analyze the strategic interaction between machines and voters as an iterated prisoners' dilemma game with one-sided uncertainty. The game generates hypotheses about the impact of the machine's capacity to monitor voters, and of voters' incomes and ideological stances, on the effectiveness of machine politics. I test these hypotheses with data from Argentina.

Corresponding author
Susan C. Stokes is the John S. Saden Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, P.O. Box 208301, Yale University, New Haven, Ct 06520-8301. (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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