Declared Support and Clientelism

41 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2019 Last revised: 2 Mar 2020

See all articles by Simeon Nichter

Simeon Nichter

Harvard University; University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Salvatore Nunnari

Bocconi University; Bocconi University - IGIER - Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research

Date Written: January 2019


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.

Suggested Citation

Nichter, Simeon and Nunnari, Salvatore, Declared Support and Clientelism (January 2019). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP13460, Available at SSRN:

Simeon Nichter (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Mail Code 0502
La Jolla, CA 92093-0112
United States

Salvatore Nunnari

Bocconi University ( email )

Via Sarfatti, 25
Milan, MI 20136

Bocconi University - IGIER - Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research

Via Roentgen 1
Milan, 20136

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