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Electoral clientelism as status affirmation in Africa: evidence from Ghana*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 November 2017

Elena Gadjanova*
Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Hermann-Foege Weg 11, Goettingen 37073, Germany


Why does electoral clientelism persist when ballots are secret and elections are competitive? The provision of material rewards during campaigns is seen as the standard way politicians secure votes in ‘patronage democracies’. Yet monitoring clientelistic bargains is difficult when voting is secret, several competitors may provide material inducements simultaneously, voters view such inducements as gifts and not obligations, and candidates' records are more credible signals of future performance. I argue that where elections are competitive and voters expect gifts, candidates engage in a two-pronged strategy: affirm their own status through public displays of wealth, and undermine opponents' rewards by matching inducements or encouraging voters to break reciprocity norms. In result, neither side's gifts are sufficient for a win, and parties are forced to pursue different linkage mechanisms to voters. One such mechanism involves defining and targeting broader constituencies through policy proposals. Micro-level data from Ghana confirm these expectations. The theory is better suited to environments where candidates' past records are known to constituents than existing explanations, and accounts for the apparent contradiction between the ubiquity of campaign clientelism in Sub-Saharan Africa and recent empirical findings that performance evaluations and non-contingent incentives matter most to voters.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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Funding for this research was provided by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. I would like to thank Isaac Yen, Norbert Winnige and Galina Novikova for research assistance. I am grateful to Karen Schönwälder, Godwin Onuoha, participants at the African Diversities colloquium in Göttingen and the Program for African Studies Open Seminar at Princeton, Ghadafi Saibu, Abdul-Kadri Alhassan, two anonymous reviewers, and the editors for constructive feedback.



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