Vote Buying and Impression Management: Performing Largesse in Northeast Brazil

37 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2021

Date Written: April 1, 2019


Scholars have traditionally analyzed vote-buying exchanges through their economic value for both voters and politicians. Politicians are expected to buy votes efficiently, that is, to get the most votes from the resources expended either by targeting voters that are most likely to reciprocate or by ensuring through monitoring mechanisms that voters indeed deliver their vote. In contrast, this article proposes a theory of vote buying as an impression management tool to explain why in some contexts politicians distribute electoral goods indiscriminately. I conducted ethnographic research in Sertão of Bahia and worked for two different candidates, ultimately finding that these candidates tried to distribute goods to whoever asked, rather than operating on an efficiency model. I argue that, because politicians use vote buying to create impressions on voters, they follow a logic of distribution that complies with how voters expect them to handle vote buying's demands. Given the performative dimension of vote buying, to give voters the right impression, politicians need not only to have resources but also to master the etiquette around how goods should be given. I compare the vote-buying performance of one programmatic politician and one clientelistic politician to illustrate how their different abilities to perform according to voters’ expectations impacted the impression that they gave to voters.

Keywords: Vote Buying, Campaings, Brazil, Ethnography

Suggested Citation

Borges Martins da Silva, Mariana, Vote Buying and Impression Management: Performing Largesse in Northeast Brazil (April 1, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Mariana Borges Martins da Silva (Contact Author)

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

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