Political Economy

Redistribution, Voting and Clientelism: Evidence from the Italian Land Reform

Many democracies around the world feature pervasive clientelist practices. How these systems emerge and persist is a central question in political economy. Redistribution policies can reduce poverty and inequality, thus undermining important determinants of clientelism. However, by inducing voter reciprocity, they can also initiate the political exchange typical of clientelist systems. Therefore, the relation between redistribution and clientelism is a priori ambiguous. We study how voting and clientelism respond to a major redistribution policy, the 1950 Italian land reform. Using a panel spatial regression discontinuity and data for half a century, we show that the large-scale redistribution led to the emergence of a long-lasting clientelist system characterized by political brokers, patronage and targeted benefits. Within this system, the Christian Democratic party, which promoted the reform, experienced persistent electoral gains.