Severyns Ravenholt Talk: Poverty and Clientelism: Do the Poor Embrace Handouts?

Ellen Lust, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Friday, January 17, 2020 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Gowen Hall 1A, The Olson Room
Abstract: Conventional accounts of voting in the global south suggest that campaign handouts are particularly effective electoral incentives among the poor. They suggest that candidates are more likely to offer the poor goods in return for their votes because the poor sell their votes at a lower price and are more likely to act reciprocally, while the poor are more likely to welcome such handouts because they are present-biased, in need of assistance, and, when vote-buying is widespread in their area, less likely to see it as morally unacceptable. Yet, while scholars have sometimes assumed that the poor are more likely to prefer campaign handouts to other appeals, they have not explicitly examined the poor´s preferences over handouts. In a conjoint experiment designed to test the power of different appeals, we find that offers of immediate, particularistic goods have a negative effect on the likelihood of poor voters to support the candidate. Drawing on studies from social psychology and focus groups both before and after the experiment, we then consider why the poor may be particularly offended by handouts. We conclude by discussing the importance of incorporating conceptions of dignity into studies of clientelism.