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Does Clientelism Work?

Mark Schneider

CASI has just published a working paper titled “Does Clientelism Work? A Test of Guessability in India,” written by Mark Schneider, a doctoral candidate in Political Science at Columbia University.

Central to the literature on clientelism is the assumption that low-level politicians are able to act as “brokers” between voters and higher-level politicians because they possess invaluable information on the partisan preferences in their area. These brokers are believed to be able to monitor votes and efficiently target benefits on a quid pro quo basis in their area because they possess fine-grained information about voters. In the working paper, Schneider challenges this assumption and introduces a behavioral measure- guessability– to test the degree to which local political elites (the “brokers”) can guess the partisan preferences of locals in their constituency. Based on data collected from nearly 1,000 voters and 100 sarpanches in seven districts throughout Rajasthan, Schneider’s research is a must-read for anyone who studies clientelism and targeted distribution in politics.

Read “Does Clientelism Work? A Test of Guessability in India”

Visit the author’s website and follow him on Twitter @schneidertime

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Political Mirage: Through the Lens of Mewat

Preeti Mann

Preeti Mann

Preeti Mann, a professor in the School of Development Studies at Ambedkar University-Delhi, has written this week’s IiT piece. Mann provides an insightful anthropological perspective on the recent election using Mewat district in Haryana as an example. She discusses the barriers that the Aam Admi Party faced in getting a foothold in the region and circumventing local thondas (middlemen).

“Each thonda represents a certain vote bank: depending on his clout, he could influence more than two thousand votes. The web of associations between the thondas and the locals has created a fine network of political ties in the region. Due to this, there is hardly a free floating, independent or disassociated vote in Mewat.”

Read the article here. 

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Cash, Candidates, and Campaigns

Michael Collins

Michael Collins

This week’s India in Transition (IiT) article was written by Michael Collins, a doctoral student in South Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Collins has described the impact of campaign finance laws in India and the creative ways that political parties have circumvented them.

“Two months ago, India conducted the largest democratic exercise in history. The 2014 General Election, enacted in nine phases over a five-week period, witnessed 553.8 million voters cast ballots to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha. The resurgence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) captured headlines and, in effect, diverted attention from a disconcerting growth in gross electoral spending. With an estimated $5 billion price tag, including a cost of nearly $600 million to the government exchequer, the recent election ranks among the costliest in the history of democracy…” Continue reading

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Criminality in politics highlighted on Satyamev Jayate

Criminality in politics was highlighted in this Sunday’s episode of Satyamev Jayate, a hit talk show in India hosted by Bollywood superstar, Amir Khan. Watch for a special appearance by Milan Vaishnav at 32:00 minutes! You can also watch the video on Satyamev Jayate‘s website.


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It’s the economy, stupid

This post was written by Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment, a member of the Lok survey research team.

In our second piece (of our four-part series with the Times of India), we discussed the issues that matter most to voters in India’s 2014 elections.  The Lok survey asked all respondents the following question:

“I want to ask you about the upcoming Lok Sabha elections to be held in 2014. These are the MP elections for electing the Central Government in Delhi. Which of the following issues will influence your voting choice the most? Pick ONLY ONE”:

The chart below displays the responses.  Economic growth was the number one issue, followed by corruption and inflation/price rise. The only other issue to break double digits was “changes in personal family income.” The dominance of economic concerns is striking: three of the top four issues are economic in nature (and it could be argued that the fourth, corruption, is linked with the economy).

Figure 1

Yet what is not clear from Figure 1 is how issue preferences vary by state. To understand the variation in issue preference across India, we created a color-coded matrix of the top three election issues by state. The dominance of the top three issues—growth, corruption and inflation—holds even when we disaggregate by state.

Growth was a “top 3” concern in nearly all states except for Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP). Bihar and UP are moved first and foremost by concerns with corruption, with is understandable perhaps given their reputations for poor governance, followed by law and order (Bihar) and personal income (UP). Inflation ranks third in both states.  What is remarkable is, across all states, how few respondents identified issues related non-corruption related issues of governance or personal standing as priorities.

Figure 2

What does this chart tell us?

First, voters are angry about the state of the macro-economy and are much more seized with what political scientists refer to as “socio-tropic” economic concerns rather than pocketbook issues. Given that these issues fall within the purview of the central government, this is not good news for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

Second, despite the occasional bursts of protest and media attention on issues of pubic safety, law and order does not seem to be a top issue in most Indian states, with the exception of Bihar and Kerala.  Interestingly, despite their many differences, voters in Kerala are equally bothered by corruption and are the only two states to identify law and order as a priority concern.

Third, Neelanjan commented on the low ranking of identity issues in his previous post (and we will have more to say about this in next Sunday’s Times of India piece). But one issue which does not figure into any state’s list of top 3 priorities is “leadership.” It could be that the concept is too vague for voters to grasp, but its low rating seems odd given the association of this attribute with BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.  What this perhaps reveals is that voters are not looking for a strong leader in the abstract; it’s really direction on the economy they are looking for.  Thus it appears that in India, as in the United States, it really is about the economy, stupid.