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Papers in the burgeoning empirical literature on distributive politics often focus their analysis on the pattern of distribution of a single patronage good—for example, cash transfers, roads, education spending, electrification, or targeted grants. Yet because governments can favor constituencies through the targeting of multiple public and private goods, drawing general conclusions about distributive politics by investigating just one (or even a few) good(s) can be misleading. We demonstrate the severity of this problem by investigating a particular manifestation of distributive politics—ethnic favoritism—in a particular setting—Africa—and show that the conclusions one draws about who benefits from government allocation decisions can vary markedly depending on the outcome one happens to study. Our findings suggest the need for caution in making general claims about who benefits from distributive politics and raise questions about extant theoretical conclusions that are based on empirical work that focuses on a single distributive outcome. The findings also provide a foundation for a new research agenda aimed at identifying the reasons why political leaders choose to favor their supporters with some public and private goods rather than others.
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