Brief 13: Reducing Clientelism in Benin

Did Survey Respondent Vote for Experimental Candidate? (OLS estimates)
 OverallOpposition CandidatesIncumbent Candidate
Vote took place in treated village0.0599***(0.0206)0.0864***(0.0275)-0.0101(0.0156)
Did Survey Respondent Consider Experimental Candidate the ‘Best Candidate’? (OLS estimates)
 OverallOpposition CandidatesIncumbent Candidate
Vote took place in treated village0.0663***(0.0212)0.0999***(0.0270)-0.0256(0.0227)
Interpretation: When they ran on the treatment platform, all types of candidates received 6 percentage points more of the vote share as reported in representative surveys of voters in treatment and control villages. This effect is highly statistically significant. Opposition candidates received 9 percentage points more of the self-reported vote share when they ran on the treatment platform as opposed to the control. The incumbent candidate is estimated to have lost one percentage point of the vote share on the treatment platform, although this effect is not statistically distinguishable from zero effect.
< 0.1, ** p < 0.05, *** p < 0.01 Robust standard errors clustered at village level. Regression controls for regional-level fixed effects.
  • In contexts where clientelism is rife, simply abandoning vote-buying practices and clientelistic favors is unlikely to be a sustainable strategy for candidates, who will be at a competitive disadvantage. Any campaign strategy aimed at sustainably reducing clientelism should be competitive against clientelistic tactics.
  • Efforts to make non-clientelistic campaign strategies competitive should focus on the voters. This means not only offering programmatic alternatives to clientelistic arrangements, but also informing and engaging voters in debate over the relative merits of different policy platforms. Town hall style meetings are one effective strategy for fostering this engagement.
  • Consideration should be given to the different ways in which such reforms will impact political competitors. Participatory campaign strategies such as town hall debates are likely to benefit some candidates more than others, in particular those in a challenger position.
  • All efforts to discourage clientelism through election campaigns should attempt to produce net positive democratic outcomes. In particular, any intervention that targets vote-buying should ensure that decreases in participation are kept to a minimum or avoided. Evidence suggests that town hall meetings may even increase participation.
  • Parties or candidates in upcoming elections in the West African region, such as those running in the presidential elections in Nigeria in 2015, might consider implementing participatory, anti-clientelistic campaign strategies in districts where they occupy a challenger position.
  • Many important questions are raised by the electoral success of these anti-clientelistic campaign strategies. New experiments, for example, could employ factorial designs to analyze which kinds of campaign tactics are the most effective against clientelistic alternatives. But some questions could even be answered without the need for new experiments. For example, researchers could explore the long-term consequences of interventions such as Wantchekon’s through downstream analysis. Are policy outcomes in villages treated in previous experiments objectively better by some measure (i.e. number of projects completed, money spent)? Are voters more or less satisfied with such outcomes? How have their perceptions about vote-buying or electoral corruption evolved as a result of the treatment?