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Clientelism from the Client’s Perspective: A Meta-Analysis of Ethnographic Literature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 December 2020


Mainstream political science literature on clientelism tends to focus on its supply side and on vote-buying, whereas ethnographic work often emphasizes client agency and incentives and paints a more diverse image of clientelism. We bridge the gap between these literatures by conducting a meta-analysis of ethnographic literature on clientelism from the client perspective. We code characteristics of clientelistic exchanges described in this work. We use cluster analysis and principal component analysis to systematize these data. Cluster analysis groups exchanges into three core subtypes of clientelism (“vote-buying”, “relational”, and “collective”); principal component analysis delivers two fundamental dimensions of clientelism: equal-unequal and individual-universal. We show that the two dimensions are associated with different aspects of client welfare and trade-offs from the client perspective. Our results reaffirm and reconcile existing deductive typologies of clientelism and can serve as a basis for a structured study of the demand side of clientelism.

© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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A list of permanent links to Supplemental Materials provided by the authors precedes the References section.


Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at:

The research in this paper was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of the project “The Demand Side of Clientelism”. The authors would like to thank participants and discussants of the 2018 Workshop “The Demand Side of Clientelism: Agency, Trade-Offs, and Welfare Implications” at the University of Duisburg-Essen, the 2018 ECPR Joint Sessions, and at the 2018 EPSA, APSA, and PSAI Annual Meetings for very helpful comments and suggestions. They would also like to thank the editor of Perspectives on Politics and four anonymous reviewers for excellent feedback on the original manuscript.


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