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Abstract: Political clientelism is often deemed to undermine democratic accountability and representation.
This study argues that economic vulnerability causes citizens to participate in
clientelism. We test this hypothesis with a randomized control trial that reduced household
vulnerability through a development intervention: constructing residential water
cisterns in drought-prone areas of Northeast Brazil. This exogenous reduction in vulnerability
significantly decreased requests for private benefits from local politicians, especially
by citizens likely to be involved in clientelist relationships. We also link program
beneficiaries to granular voting outcomes, and show that this reduction in vulnerability
decreased votes for incumbent mayors, who typically have more resources to engage
in clientelism. Our evidence points to a persistent reduction in clientelism, given that
findings are observed not only during an election campaign, but also a full year later.
Keywords: Vulnerability, Clientelism, Voting.
JEL Classification: P16, O10, O12, O54