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Electoral Handouts as Information: Explaining Unmonitored Vote Buying

Abstract

Why is vote buying effective even where ballot secrecy is protected? Most answers emerge from models of machine politics, in which a machine holds recipients of handouts accountable for their subsequent political behavior. Yet vote buying is common in many contexts where political party machines are not present, or where parties exert little effort in monitoring voters. This article addresses this puzzle. The author argues that politicians often distribute electoral handouts to convey information to voters. This vote buying conveys information with respect to the future provision of resources to the poor. The author tests the argument with original qualitative and experimental data collected in Kenya. A voter's information about a candidate's vote buying leads to substantial increases in electoral support, an effect driven by expectations about the provision of clientelist benefits beyond the electoral period. The results, showing that the distribution of material benefits can be electorally effective for persuasive reasons, thereby explain how vote buying can be effective in the absence of machine politics.

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* I am grateful to Daniel Posner, Barbara Geddes, Miriam Golden, Pascaline Dupas, and Jeffrey Lewis for their support of this project. Earlier versions of this article received valuable feedback from Jessica Gottlieb; Henry Hale; Jeremy Horowitz; John McCauley; Amanda Robinson; Mark Setzler; Jeremy Weinstein; members of the Working Group in African Political Economy; and participants at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law research seminar at Stanford University. I appreciate the suggestions and feedback of the editors of World Politics and three anonymous reviewers. Christine Barasa, Paul Kipchumba, Sylvester Kosgei, Patricia Kubai, and Antony Munene provided excellent research assistance. A National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant supported this research. I am grateful for the support of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford and the Institute for International Economic Policy at George Washington University. All mistakes are my own.

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
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