Do gifts buy votes?
Evidence from sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America
Vote-buying — or the pre-electoral distribution of private goods in exchange for support at the ballot box — is often blamed for the poor economic performance of many developing countries. By pressuring individuals to vote against their own interest, vote-buying may undermine accountability and the implementation of sound development policies.
Yet, these effects depend on it leading to electoral outcomes that would not have occurred otherwise. In this paper we use survey data from 17 sub-Saharan African elections between 2000 and 2005 and 20 Latin American elections between 2005 and 2010 to show that, despite its widespread prevalence, vote-buying has a limited electoral impact on average: in only 11 of 37 elections are gifts-for-votes practices correlated with higher turnout.
Yet, in only very few elections could have these gifts translated into visible electoral advantages for a particular party. This contrasts with common perceptions about the effectiveness of electoral handouts and the quality of the elections in these regions.