Clientelism by Committee: The Effect of Legislator–Constituent Relationships on Legislative Organization

Published date01 September 2020
Date01 September 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2020, Vol. 73(3) 667 –679
© 2019 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919851872
Dozens of countries transitioned away from authoritarian
government in democracy’s third wave. In many cases,
regime changes inaugurated reforms designed to increase
representation, political rights, civil liberties, and
accountability. Yet, good governance has failed to materi-
alize in many new democracies (Bardhan and Mookherjee
2006; Foweraker and Krznaric 2002; Hagopian and
Mainwaring 2005; Heller, Kyriacou, and Roca-Sagalés
2016; Helmke and Levitsky 2006; Jensen and Wantchekon
2004; Keefer 2007; Keefer and Vlaicu 2008; Mainwaring,
Bejarano, and Leongómez 2006). Many argue that clien-
telism is to blame for these new democracies’ failure to
deliver on democratic promises. Clientelism occurs when
politicians exchange private goods for citizens’ votes
(Desposato 2007; Hicken 2011; Keefer 2007; Keefer and
Vlaicu 2008; Stokes 2005; Stokes et al. 2013; Weitz-
Shapiro 2012, 2014). Recent research has shown how
politicians who engage in clientelistic practices adapt
their clientelistic strategies to democratic institutional
contexts (Desposato 2007; Fox 1994; Helmke and
Levitsky 2006; Hicken 2011; Kitschelt and Wilkinson
2007; Mustapic 2002; Stokes 2005; Stokes et al. 2013;
Taylor 1996; Weitz-Shapiro 2012, 2014). In this article,
we examine how they have adapted their strategies within
the legislative arena with respect to the number of legisla-
tive committees.
Legislative committee system structures vary cross-
nationally, but most committee systems are designed to
give legislators some influence over the allocation of
government resources. In some cases, committees are
designed to give certain individuals or parties control
over a very specific resource stream that they can redis-
tribute to voters (Kasfir and Twebaze 2009; Lewis 2009;
Lyne 2008, 193). In other cases, committees give mem-
bers some control over the development of public goods
in a particular policy area (André, Depauw, and Martin
2016; Cox and McCubbins 1993; Kim and Loewenberg
2005; S. Martin 2014; Young and Heitshusen 2003). Even
committees in the British House of Commons, which
have been traditionally viewed as weak, have some influ-
ence over the content of bills during the policy-making
process (Thompson 2016).
851872PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919851872Political Research QuarterlyVanDusky-Allen and Touchton
1Boise State University, ID, USA
2University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Michael Touchton, Department of Political Science, University of
Miami, 1300 Campo Sano, Coral Gables, FL 33146, USA.
Clientelism by Committee: The
Effect of Legislator–Constituent
Relationships on Legislative
Julie VanDusky-Allen1 and Michael Touchton2
In this paper, we analyze how legislator–voter relationships influence legislative organization. We argue that legislators
who engage in clientelistic practices to gain votes will create much larger committee systems, with more committees,
than legislators who engage in more programmatic practices. We test these arguments using an original dataset on
the number of committees in the lower chambers of seventy-seven democracies throughout the world. Our analysis
demonstrates that the number of committees is higher in legislatures with clientelistic practices than in legislatures
with programmatic practices. The results provide a new understanding of how legislator–voter relationships influence
legislative organization and lay the groundwork for a series of studies that examine how the clientelism-programmatic
spectrum influences legislative organization.
clientelism, committees, legislative, parties, legislator–constituent relations

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