Ethnic Group Inequality, Partisan Networks, and Political Clientelism

Date01 June 2019
Published date01 June 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2019, Vol. 72(2) 329 –341
© 2018 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912918789283
Clientelistic parties challenge the tendency to view the
interaction between voters and politicians in democratic
countries as a relationship between principals and agents
based on broad policy platforms. While programmatic
politics has frequently been seen as the normatively most
adequate and satisfactory form of democratic competi-
tion, scholars have pointed to clientelism as an alternative
mode of political exchange (Kitschelt and Wilkinson
2007).1 Clientelism involves the direct provision of goods
and services by politicians to individuals or small groups
of voters in exchange for their support on election day.
Voters in a clientelistic relationship expect particular
goods targeting party supporters only, while voters who
engage in a programmatic accountability mechanism can
benefit from a broad policy package. At the same time,
both clientelism and programmatic competition are ratio-
nal and deliberative strategies of principal-agent interac-
tion that maintain accountability (Kitschelt 2007).
Scholars have investigated the conditions under which
parties and politicians tend to invest in clientelistic rather
than programmatic strategies as more preferable ways to
attract votes. The literature has pointed to the importance of
several factors, including economic development (Calvo
and Murillo 2004; Kitschelt 2000; Malagoni, Diaz-Cayeros,
and Estévez 2007; Stokes et al. 2013), democratic experi-
ence (Keefer 2007), institutional arrangements (Ames
1999; Ordeshook 1995), and features of party organization
(Calvo and Murillo 2013; Kitschelt and Kselman 2011). In
addition to these conditions, scholars have also identified
the ethnic aspect of clientelism in various contexts. The cor-
relation between ethnic pluralism and the lack of political
competition based on programmatic accountability strate-
gies has been well documented. Many studies have pointed
out that ethnically based parties or politicians tend to deliver
goods to their own ethnic groups. For example, co-ethnics
of the incumbent politicians are more likely to have pork
barrel benefits (Fearon 1999), preferential access to pri-
mary schooling (Kramon and Posner 2016), more transport
infrastructure in their districts (Burgess et al. 2015), or bet-
ter health outcomes (Franck and Rainer 2012). Consistent
with the argument, scholars have also linked the underpro-
vision of universalist public goods to high levels of ethnic
fragmentation (e.g., Alesina, Baqir, and Easterly 1999;
Habyarimana et al. 2007; Miguel and Gugerty 2005).
However, the relationships between ethnic divides and
partisan clientelistic strategies have not been systematically
examined. It is still not clear whether clientelistic exchanges
tend to be more widespread in ethnically highly fragmented
societies. Which aspects of ethno-cultural differences are
789283PRQXXX10.1177/1065912918789283Political Research QuarterlyWang and Kolev
1National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan
2Hendrix College, Conway, AR, USA
Corresponding Author:
Yi-ting Wang, Department of Political Science, National Cheng Kung
University. No.1, University Rd., Tainan 70101, Taiwan.
Ethnic Group Inequality, Partisan
Networks, and Political Clientelism
Yi-ting Wang1 and Kiril Kolev2
How do ethnic group divisions affect parties’ linkage strategies? The provision of private or local club goods favoring
co-ethnics by politicians has been well documented in the literature. However, whether clientelism tends to be more
widespread in ethnically highly fragmented societies has not been systematically examined. Utilizing a dataset that
includes information on more than 450 parties in eighty competitive party systems, we show that the mere presence
of multiple ethnic groups does not lead to more clientelistic exchange. Nevertheless, in countries characterized by high
levels of economic inequality between politically relevant ethnic groups, parties are more likely to rely on clientelistic
strategies to attract votes. In addition, this positive relationship between ethnic income inequality and clientelism is
contingent on parties’ ties to ethnic social networks. Specifically, in ethnically unequal societies, parties that can rely
on existing ethnic organizations particularly engage in clientelistic modes of electoral mobilization.
clientelism, political parties, ethnicity, inequality

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