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How Aid Targets Votes: The Impact of Electoral Incentives on Foreign Aid Distribution

  • Ryan S. Jablonski

Despite allegations that foreign aid promotes corruption and patronage, little is known about how recipient governments' electoral incentives influence aid spending. This article proposes a distributional politics model of aid spending in which governments use their informational advantages over donors in order to allocate a disproportionate share of aid to electorally strategic supporters, allowing governments to translate aid into votes. To evaluate this argument, the author codes data on the spatial distribution of multilateral donor projects in Kenya from 1992 to 2010 and shows that Kenyan governments have consistently influenced the aid allocation process in favor of copartisan and coethnic voters, a bias that holds for each of Kenya's last three regimes. He confirms that aid distribution increases incumbent vote share. This evidence suggests that electoral motivations play a significant role in aid allocation and that distributional politics may help explain the gap between donor intentions and outcomes.

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* For their insightful advice, I would like to thank the editors; four anonymous reviewers; Stephan Haggard; J. Lawrence Broz; Clark Gibson; Megumi Naoi; Craig Mcintosh; Matthew Winters; James Long; Jeremy Horowitz; Sarah Knoesen; Simon Hicks; Disha Girod; Daniel Nielson; Karen Ferree; Audrey Sacks; Marco Larizza; and participants in seminars at the World Bank, the Working Group on African Political Economy, and the University of California, San Diego. Thanks to Nolan Weber for research assistance. Thanks to Daniel Nielson, Joshua Powell, Michael Tierney, Bradley Parks, Michael Findley, and other members of the AidData Research Consortium and World Bank Mapping for Results teams for their advice and their generosity with their data. Supplementary material and replication information is available at

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

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