The Demand Side of Clientelism

When and why do citizens choose to engage in clientelistic relations?

Until recently, political science literature on clientelism has paid little attention to this question and conceptualized poor citizens as willing vote sellers. In contrast, ethnographic literature on the topic highlights the agency of (potential) clients and the varying views they have on these exchanges.  Our project systematically studies the demand side of clientelism and seeks to understand the trade-offs of and welfare implications for citizens when engaging in clientelism. We consider a different clientelistic practices in rural and urban environments, including vote-buying, relational, and collective forms of clientelism. We conduct focus groups and survey experiments in rural and urban settings in Tunisia and South Africa to learn more about local practices as well as the perceptions and attitudes of the clients. Our surveys use experimental methods in order to identify causal mechanisms and address potential social desirability biases. For the objectives and design of the project, see here.

The project is directed by Miquel Pellicer (UDE) and Eva Wegner (University College Dublin) and includes an international research team.


The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).


Pellicer, M. E. Wegner, M.Bayer, and C. Tischmeyer “Clientelism from the Client’s Perspective: An Empirically Grounded Conceptual Framework”, SPIRe Working Paper 2019/15.

Pellicer, M. E. Wegner, M.Bayer, and C. Tischmeyer.  “Citizen Assessments of Clientelistic Practices in South Africa”, SPIRe Working Paper 2019/16.

Pellicer, M. E. Wegner, L. Benstead and E. Lust Poor people beliefs and the dynamics of clientelism” (GLD working paper 12)

Work in Progress

Pellicer, M. and E. Wegner “Citizen Evaluations of Patrons and Clients in Different Forms of Clientelism”. Pre-analyis plan registered at EGAP on 12/22/2018.

Pellicer, M. and E. Wegner “The price of respect: The role of status and belonging in clients’ evaluations of clientelism”. Pre-analysis plan registered at EGAP on 12/21/2018.