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Vote-buying is defined as a transaction whereby candidates distribute private goods such as cash and gifts in exchange for electoral support or higher turnout. The direct implication of this definition is that vote shares and turnout would have been lower in the absence of electoral handouts. While there is ample evidence that candidates target certain voters with cash handouts, it is unclear whether these handouts actually result in greater turnout or higher vote shares in favour of the distributing candidate. In this paper, we use evidence from Benin and other African democracies to investigate the conditions under which votebuying, as defined above, is likely to take place.

We first use a theoretical framework developed in other studies to examine when the exchange of bribes for votes might become the preferred course of action for parties and politicians. As argued elsewhere (Stokes, 2005; Nichter, 2008), in the presence of low monitoring by political parties, cash in exchange for votes cannot become an equilibrium in one-shot interactions. However, we show that even in the case of repeated interactions, low monitoring renders the bribes or handouts to be paid for votes prohibitively high. The situation is worsened when more than one party is bribing to obtain votes. Under these conditions, complete cash-for-votes transactions are very unlikely.

After outlining the theoretical framework, we investigate empirically whether electoral handouts lead to visible differences in individual vote choices or turnout. We use three sets of surveys to investigate the effectiveness of handouts: an original survey conducted after the 2011 presidential election in Benin (see Wantchekon, 2012), Afrobarometer Round 3 surveys conducted in 2005/2006 across 18 African countries, and the Afrobarometer Round 5 survey conducted in 2011 in Benin. While the 2011 Afrobarometer survey in Benin has the unique feature that it measures whether handouts were offered by one or more parties, the Afrobarometer Round 3 data allow for additional robustness checks of our results. That is, the similarity in the Afrobarometer questions across countries helps us cross-validate our findings in different contexts.

Jenny Guardado

Jenny Guardado (corresponding author) is assistant professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

Leonard Wantchekon

Leonard Wantchekon is professor of politics at Princeton University.