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How Do Voters Respond to Welfare vis-à-vis Public Good Programs? An Empirical Test for Clientelism

Staff Report 605 | Published July 8, 2020

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Authors

Pranab Bardhan University of California, Berkeley

Sandip Mitra Indian Statistical Institute

Dilip Mookherjee Boston University

How Do Voters Respond to Welfare vis-à-vis Public Good Programs? An Empirical Test for Clientelism

Abstract

This paper examines allocation of benefits under local government programs in West Bengal, India to isolate patterns consistent with political clientelism. Using household survey data, we find that voters respond positively to private welfare benefits but not to local public good programs, while reporting having benefited from both. Consistent with the voting patterns, shocks to electoral competition induced by exogenous redistricting of villages resulted in upper-tier governments manipulating allocations across local governments only for welfare programs. Through the lens of a hierarchical budgeting model, we argue that these results provide credible evidence of the presence of clientelism rather than programmatic politics, and how this distorts the allocation of government programs both within and across villages.