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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