Distribution or Diversion? Distribution of Local Public Goods in the Presence of Clientelist Brokers

Date01 June 2021
Published date01 June 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2021, Vol. 74(2) 274 –287
© 2020 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912920903800
Existing literature finds that leaders in developing coun-
tries often—though not always—allocate more local pub-
lic goods (LPGs) to the communities that vote for them
(Albertus 2013; Rosas, Johnston, and Hawkins 2014;
Vaishnav and Sircar 2012). In most cases, these patterns
are interpreted as distribution from the center to voters in
exchange for their support; a model in which voters sup-
port politicians in anticipation of better LPGs is particu-
larly prominent in the African politics literature (Carlson
2015; Ichino and Nathan 2013; Posner 2005).
But this conclusion sits uneasily with other literature
that suggests that blocs of voters in poor countries do not
directly negotiate a quid-pro-quo with the central state
but are delivered to the regime by networks of local bro-
kers who either compel political loyalty or buy it with
targeted private goods (Baland and Robinson 2008;
Boone 2011; de Kadt and Larreguy 2018; Frye, Reuter,
and Szakonyi 2014; Koter 2013). Clientelist brokers
require access to discretionary funds for vote-buying and
their own compensation (Camp 2017; Camp and
Szwarcberg 2015; de la O 2015; Jablonski, Sacks, and
Larizza 2014; Kasara 2007; Novaes 2015; Singer 2009;
Trantidis and Tsagkroni 2017; Zarazaga 2015), but since
governments can’t overtly allocate money to clientelism,
the money must be diverted from other components of the
budget. This raises the question: When we see that loyal
constituencies are granted allocations for LPGs, are
voters actually receiving these goods? Or are these funds
intended for use by the local brokers who keep voters
The question is relevant to our models of how voters
and leaders behave. Most distributive politics literature
assumes two actors: voters, who vote in response to dis-
tribution, and elected leaders, who distribute goods to
earn support. If this is the correct model, then the correla-
tion between local electoral outcomes and allocations to
LPGs will be sufficient to determine whether there is an
exchange of goods for support. In clientelist countries,
however, there will likely be another actor, an intermedi-
ary (or coordinated group of intermediaries) who can
both divert resources and influence vote choice, and the
intermediary’s actions will moderate the apparent rela-
tionship between vote choice, official allocations, and de
facto LPGs provision. Communities who appear to sup-
port the incumbent in exchange for greater allocations of
LPGs may actually be voting in exchange for handouts
bought with diverted funds. Conversely, if we find a neg-
ative correlation between observed LPGs and support for
903800PRQXXX10.1177/1065912920903800Political Research QuarterlyCarlson
1Penn State, University Park, PA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Elizabeth Carlson, Penn State, 228 Pond Lab, University Park, PA
16802, USA.
Email: ecc13@psu.edu
Distribution or Diversion? Distribution
of Local Public Goods in the Presence
of Clientelist Brokers
Elizabeth Carlson1
In this article, I argue that, in clientelist regimes, money officially allocated to local public goods will sometimes
be diverted to private handouts, and that the extent of diversion will be systematically correlated with electoral
outcomes. I show that allocated funds are more likely to translate into local public goods in opposition areas and the
incumbent’s ethnic core. Diversion of funds is greatest in areas outside the ethnic core that are nevertheless won
by the regime. This is consistent with a model in which brokers tasked with delivering non-coethnic voters to the
regime divert funds for this purpose. As a result of extensive diversion in loyal non-coethnic districts, these voters are
significantly less likely to see completed local public goods projects than either core voters or those who oppose the
regime. This unexpected result suggests that the behavior of local brokers may be responsible for a number of puzzling
findings in the distributive politics literature.
clientelism, distributive politics, African politics

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