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The Microfoundations of Political Clientelism: Lessons from the Argentine Case

From: Latin American Research Review
Volume 48, Number 2, 2013
pp. 32-54 | 10.1353/lar.2013.0024



This article challenges the assumption that parties and candidates with access to material benefits will always distribute goods to low-income voters in exchange for electoral support. I claim that a candidate’s capacity to turn to clientelistic strategies of mobilization is a necessary but insufficient condition to explain his or her decision to use clientelism. Besides having the capacity to use clientelism, candidates have to prefer to use clientelism to mobilize voters. In studying candidates’ capacities and preferences to use clientelism, this article provides an account of the microfoundations of political clientelism in Argentina. By combining quantitative and qualitative data at the municipal level, I find that the number of pragmatist candidates, who are capable of using clientelism and prefer to turn to such strategies, is almost equaled by the number of idealist candidates, who, though capable of doing so, prefer not to use clientelism.


Este estudio plantea la hipótesis de que la capacidad de los candidatos de utilizar estrategias clientelares es una condición necesaria pero insuficiente para explicar su decisión de distribuir bienes y beneficios materiales a cambio de apoyo electoral. Mas allá de tener acceso a bienes materiales y redes de activistas políticos que colaboren con la distribución de bienes, los candidatos deben también preferir usar estrategias clientelares. Este artículo combina datos cuantitativos y cualitativos a nivel municipal en Argentina para mostrar que no hay una diferencia significativa entre las preferencias de los candidatos que cuentan con la capacidad de usar clientelismo. El artículo encuentra una cantidad similar de candidatos que prefieren utilizar estrategias clientelares, candidatos pragmáticos, y candidatos que prefieren rechazar el uso del clientelismo, candidatos idealistas.

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