Thus far we have examined various shocks to a clientelistic equilibrium that might disrupt it. The entry of new political forces which mobilize outside the system (Shefter), democracy (Lizzeri and Persico) and changed economic opportunities (Chubb).
Another possibility is that changes in political institutions at a finer level than democracy could influence the incentives to be clientelistic. A large literature in political science argues that features of the electoral system can encourage clientelistic politics, because, for example, they make it easier to win office with a small number of votes, thus encouraging patronage rather than public goods provision.
A classic paper on this is by John Carey and Matthew Shugart, “Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote”. Carey and Shugart coded different electoral system on the extent to which they encouraged clientelistic strategies (Colombia won, or lost, depending on your perspective). The results suggest that, even ignoring such big transitions as movements towards democracy, changing things like the electoral system within a democracy might have large effects on clientelism. Though we are not aware of any empirical work that conclusively shows whether changing electoral rules does reduce clientelism, there is some research that is relevant here. First, as we have already discussed, Thomas Fujiwara’s research establishes how the change to an electronic voting system in Brazil made it easier for illiterates to vote, with a significant impact on the political equilibrium.
Second and more relevant, Jean-Marie Baland and James Robinson’s “Land and Power: Theory and Evidence from Chile” studied the introduction of an effective secret ballot in Chile in 1958. Before that, landowners, who could observe the way that their workers voted, coerced them into supporting right-wing political parties. This was particularly true of a class of workers called inquilinos who were resident on large farms and thus particularly subject to landlord control. When the secret ballot was finally introduced, the vote share of right wing political parties fell differentially in areas where inquilinos were an important part of the labor force (or electorate). Here the change in balloting procedures freed the inquilinos to vote for who they wanted, thus breaking down the clientelistic control of the labor force. Sometimes reforming the details of political institutions can have a major impact of patronage politics.