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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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Milan Vaishnav on Charlie Rose

Watch Tuesday’s episode of Charlie Rose on PBS which includes a discussion about the upcoming Indian election with Milan Vaishnav from the Lok Survey project team, Sadanand Dhume, Professor Arvind Panagariya and Jonathan Shainin. The discussion begins at 28:17. You can also watch the video on

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TOI Series Article 3

Discrimination chart

In this Sunday’s installment of our Times of India four-part series on the Indian voter, authors Devesh Kapur, Milan Vaishnav, and Neelanjan Sircar take a look at how voters actually feel about dynasty and criminality in Indian politics using data collected from the Lok 2014 pre-election survey. They also examine caste-based discrimination and caste affinity (see charts), finding that 57% of people would be troubled by a candidate from a different caste winning the election. You can view the article here or directly on TOI’s website.

Don’t forget to also read the first two installments of the series, “NDA makes gains with urban, OBC voters” and “Growth is No. 1 poll issue for voters, survey shows.” Detailed information on the Lok survey methodology and weighting is available in this note. If you are in the Philadelphia or DC area, be sure to attend our events this week. Most importantly, keep following to Transitions for more pre-election analysis and commentary.

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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.

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TOI Series Article 2

BJP supporters - Flickr - Al Jazeera English

Read the newest installment of our four-part series on the Lok Survey results, “Growth is No. 1 poll issue for voters, survey shows” written by Devesh Kapur, Milan Vaishnav, and Neelanjan Sircar. The survey results showed that overall economic growth was the primary election issue with personal pocketbook concerns like access to government benefits and changes in personal family income falling behind the macroeconomic picture for most Indians. Corruption came in second overall but was the primary election issue in several states including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Read about the survey methodology here.

For a peek at analysis to come in future installments of the Times of India Series, check out this recent article in The Hindu about the Lok Survey, “The continuing grip of caste.” Also, stay tuned to this blog more more in-depth analysis.

Photo by Al Jazeera English (BJP supporters) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Milan Vaishnav discusses Lok Survey on Bloomberg TV

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Identity Predicts Vote Choice, not Electoral Outcomes


The graph above displays the predicted vote for NDA and UPA by identity group for 2009 and 2014. The data are calculated from the Lok Survey. We see that there is indeed a very strong relationship between identity group and support for NDA vis-a-vis UPA.

In both 2009 and 2014, the difference in support for UPA as compared to NDA is least among upper castes, then OBCs, SCs, STs, and most among Muslims. However, simply focusing on this fact would mask the huge reversal of fortune for the UPA between 2009 and 2014. Change in electoral outcomes is driven by increases in support for NDA within identity groups, not by the relative support for NDA across them.

Indeed, there were double-digit increases in support for NDA among upper castes and OBCs, and an increase of 8 percentage points among SCs (and virtually no change in support among STs and Muslims). The magnitudes of these changes are far too large to be explained by a few well-organized subcastes switching allegiances.

The problem with a pure identity-based logic for electoral outcomes is that it masks the volatility in Indian elections. Identity is relatively fixed over time, electoral outcomes are not. In fact, Leigh Linden has shown that, in the post-1991 period, MPs actually face a strong anti-incumbency bias.

So, if identity doesn’t predict movement in electoral outcomes, what does? Well, that’s the subject of my next TOI piece with Milan Vaishnav and Devesh Kapur, so you’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out.