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Clientelism and Local Ties

Africa
Governance
Political Participation
Third World Politics
Voting
Survey Experiments
Survey Research
Voting Behaviour
Kristen Kao
University of Gothenburg
Kristen Kao
University of Gothenburg
Ellen Lust
University of Gothenburg

Abstract

The core dilemma presented in the literature on clientelism in elections is how candidates and voters overcome commitment problems. How can candidates be certain that voters entering the voting booth cast ballots in their favor, and how can voters be sure that candidates will deliver? A large body of literature argues that shared ethnic identity helps actors to overcome these commitment problems, leading to the conclusion that voters will prefer ethnic candidates over non-co-ethnic candidates (Lemarchand 1972, Bates 1983, Chandra 2004, Posner 2005, Corstange 2016). As Chandra highlights, “the only credible promises are those made by co-ethnics” (2007: 62). Yet, the picture may not be so clear. An under-studied concept in work on connections between voters and their elected officials are local ties. Considering the ties that bind co-ethnics to one another in elections are conceptualized in the literature to be based on the increased ability of co-ethnics to communicate with one another (Barcharach and Gambetta 2001, etc.), to sanction one another for failure to cooperate (Fearon and Laitin 1996, Miguel and Guerty 2005), and to trust one another (Cohen 1969, Landa 1994, Fershtman and Gneezy 2001, Petrie 2003, Barr 2004), as well as having higher moral obligations to help one another and increased social ties to one another (Habyarimana et al. 2009), members of the same neighborhood or village should also be expected to favor one another as they also share these tendencies. Employing a conjoint experiment in Malawi, we present evidence that electing a true local -- someone who was born in the village and spent his whole life in the village -- is generally more important to voters than electing a co-ethnic, even when the non-local candidate is described as having greater material resources.