Discussion paper

DP13460 Declared Support and Clientelism

A broad literature examines how politicians distribute benefits in contingent exchange for vote choices and turnout. This article shifts attention to how such ``clientelism" affects citizens' choices beyond the ballot box. Under what conditions do rewards influence citizens' decisions to express political preferences publicly? When voters can obtain post-election benefits by declaring support for victorious candidates, their choices to display campaign paraphernalia on their homes or bodies may reflect more than just political preferences. We argue that various factors --- such as the size of rewards and punishments, the competitiveness of the election, and whether multiple candidates employ clientelism --- affect citizens' propensity to declare support in response to clientelist inducements. Building on insights from fieldwork, theoretical analyses reveal how and why such factors can distort patterns of political expression observed during electoral campaigns. We conduct an online laboratory experiment with a sample of 1,259 citizens in Brazil. Various findings are consistent with theory; for example, citizens are more likely to declare support for a clientelist politician who offers larger material rewards or is heavily favored to win the election, and they are less likely to declare support when clientelism is competitive or if it involves both rewards and punishments. The experiment also reveals empirical patterns not predicted by theory: citizens are insensitive to whether their declarations can be easily monitored or can influence the election, and they increase declarations for clientelist candidates who punish their declared opposers.


Nichter, S and S Nunnari (2019), ‘DP13460 Declared Support and Clientelism‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 13460. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp13460