It Takes Two to Tango: Perceptions and motivations towards campaign clientelism in Zambia

Various studies on clientelism usually start from a common puzzle: Why is campaign clientelism widely practised by politicians even when they have no means of ensuring reciprocity from the voters? Similarly, why is campaign clientelism widespread amongst voters despite its numerous negative consequences on societies, democracy, and development? These puzzles have motivated my research, where I attempt to understand the perceptions and motivations of politicians and voters towards campaign clientelism in Zambia.

To address the research question, two forms of data collection methods were utilised, in-depth interviews with politicians at the local level and a survey of voters in densely populated areas (Lusaka and Kitwe). Theoretically, the thesis draws on the informational theory of campaign clientelism to understand the perceptions and motivations of politicians, as well as insights from social psychology to understand the voters’ legitimation beliefs using the systems justification theory.

Results showed that politicians have various perceptions of clientelism, from believing clientelism is an unsigned agreement between politicians and voters as well as an act of moral responsibility. Politicians also had various motives for engaging in clientelism; careerism, or the need to impress party bosses with their organisational ability; and signalling electoral viability to clientelist-seeking voters and donors. On the other hand, most of the voters highlighted their need to maintain the status quo by stating their willingness to engage in future campaign clientelism. Voters also acknowledged that campaign clientelism was not beneficial to their communities, but they were not willing to support any future laws that would prohibit politicians and voters to engage in campaign clientelism.