The Demand Side of Clientelism

Project Description


  • This project examines when and why individuals choose to engage in clientelistic relations.
  • We consider different types of clientelistic relations (“traditional” forms as well as vote buying).
  • We conduct focus groups and survey experiments in rural and urban settings in Tunisia and South Africa.
  • Our surveys use experimental methods to identify causal mechanisms and address potential social desirability biases.
  • Our team includes researchers from University of Duisburg-Essen, University College Dublin, University of Gothenburg, Portland State University, and University of Cape Town.


A large literature in “mainstream” political science has emerged since the 1990s aiming to shed light on how political clientelism operates. This literature:

  • is largely motivated by the negative impact of political clientelism on democratic accountability, equity, and public goods provision.
  • has focused particularly on one form of clientelism: vote buying.
  • has focused mainly on the supply side of clientelism (i.e. the party or patron strategies), and on the mechanics of the exchange (the role of monitoring vs. reciprocity to sustain the exchange, the role of brokers, etc.).
  • has not explored in much depth the demand side of clientelism.
  • there is little acknowledgement of or emphasis on the agency of the clients.

In contrast, a “parallel” ethnographic literature on political clientelism:

  • often emphasizes the client’s agency
  • shows that clientelism takes many forms other than vote buying
  • emphasizes some positive welfare implications of clientelism in the context of real existing democracies in developing countries.


The main aim of this project is to study systematically the demand side of clientelism. This implies shedding light on:

  • Factors that influence the demand for clientelism, including material/ rational, as well as psychological factors.
  • The prevalence of different forms that clientelism, such as vote buying or “traditional” clientelism, and the trade-offs involved in them from the client perspective
  • The normative implications of clientelism


Our project focuses on South Africa and Tunisia and uses different methodological approaches. These include:

  • Formal theoretical models to clarify trade-offs involved in different forms of clientelism and to derive hypotheses for the empirical work
  • A systematic review of ethnographic literature on the client perspective
  • Focus groups to understand the experiences associated with different forms of clientelism and the factors that appear to matter for the client’s choice
  • Survey experiments to examine the causal role of different factors on the demand for different forms of clientelism. The surveys will also include a list experiment to address the potential social desirability bias in questions about engagement in clientelism.


  • Led by Miquel Pellicer (University of Duisburg-Essen) and Eva Wegner (University College Dublin).
  • Two PhD researchers, Markus Bayer, and Christian Tischmeyer at the University of Duisburg-Essen
  • A group of international collaborators that are heavily involved in the project: Lindsay Benstead (Portland State University), Harold Kincaid (University of Cape Town), and Ellen Lust (University of Gothenburg).


The project lasts for 27 months, from June 2017 until September 2019.


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



Miquel Pellicer (University of Duisburg-Essen)

Eva Wegner (University College Dublin)

Markus Bayer (University of Duisburg-Essen)

Christian Tischmeyer (University of Duisburg-Essen)

Lindsay Benstead (Portland State University)

Harold Kincaid (University of Cape Town)

Ellen Lust (University of Gothenburg)



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