Electoral clientelism and vote buying are widely perceived as major obstacles to economic development. This is because they may limit the provision of public goods. In this paper, we review the literature on clientelism and vote buying and propose the use of field experiments to evaluate empirically the consequences of these phenomena. We provide an overview, discuss implementation, and interpret the main results of recent field experiments conducted by the authors in West African countries. Clientelism and vote buying seem to be effective and to enjoy widespread electoral support. The results suggest that increased access to information and political participation by women may limit clientelism. In addition, voter education campaigns may undermine the effects of vote buying on voting behaviour. We argue that our findings may inform the design of development aid interventions, as a way effectively to increase public-good political accountability. We also discuss directions for fruitful future research.
Oxford Review of Economic Policy (2009) 25 (2) 292-305 [doi:10.1093/oxrep/grp018]