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The Politics of Social Assistance Expansion: Does the Interplay of Electoral and Contentious Politics Shape Social Assistance in Turkey?

Political Economy
Social Movements
Social Policy
Welfare State
Political Sociology
Quantitative
Policy Change
Ali Bargu
University of Oxford
Ali Bargu
University of Oxford

Abstract

During the last two decades, a multitude of new social assistance programs in the Global South have been introduced, scaled up, and improved. Globally, roughly 1.9 billion people are recorded to be recipients of at least one social assistance program. Turkey is an illustrative example of this development and possesses a complex and fragmented system of social assistance. While the contemporary foundations of the social assistance system in Turkey lie in the 1970s, comprehensive reforms re-shaped the system commencing in the 2000s. Though compared to contributory programs for the formal sector, social assistance has traditionally been a very small component of Turkey’s social protection system, the immense expansion in the last two decades constitutes an important change for the poor and informal working class, who have traditionally been excluded from the social protection system in Turkey. Yet, studies that examine the drivers of this expansion are still rare, with the existing ones focusing on i) electoral competition and single programs, ii) protests and their effects on single programs or iii) an overall assessment of the electoral motive and discretion across wider budgetary sectors. This paper argues that these mono-causal approaches fall short of explaining this expansion. The predominant focus of the literature on electoral competition as a driver of social assistance expansion overlooks a second path through which the poor can assert pressure on incumbent governments: protests and demonstrations. This interaction –the election-contention nexus- will be conceptualized and tested on its merits to explain the allocation and augmentation of social assistance programs in Turkey. Using micro and administrative data on social assistance programs in Turkey it will attempt to answer: Under which electoral political conditions do incumbents in the central government in Turkey respond to contentious politics of the poor with social safety net provision?