Professor Isabela Mares

Conditionality and Coercion

Isabela Mares and Lauren Young

Winner of the 2020 William E. Riker Award for Best Book in Political Economy, awarded by the American Political Science Association

Runner-Up, Gregory Luebbert Award for Best Book in Comparative Politics, awarded by the American Political Science Association

In many recent democracies, candidates compete for office using illegal strategies to influence voters. In Hungary and Romania, local actors including mayors and bureaucrats offer access to social policy benefits to voters who offer to support their preferred candidates, and they threaten others with the loss of a range of policy and private benefits for voting the “wrong” way. These quid pro quo exchanges are often called clientelism. How can politicians and their accomplices get away with such illegal campaigning in otherwise democratic, competitive elections? When do they rely on the worst forms of clientelism that involve threatening voters and manipulating public benefits?

Conditionality and Coercion: Electoral Clientelism in Eastern Europe uses a mixed method approach to understand how illegal forms of campaigning including vote buying and electoral coercion persist in two democratic countries in the European Union. The study argues that we must disaggregate clientelistic strategies based on whether they use public or private resources, and whether they involve positive promises or negative threats and coercion. We document that the type of clientelistic strategies that candidates and brokers use varies systematically across localities based on their underlying social coalitions. We also show that voters assess and sanction different forms of clientelism in different ways. Voters glean information about politicians’ personal characteristics and their policy preferences from the clientelistic strategies these candidates deploy.

Most voters judge candidates who use clientelism harshly. So how does clientelism, including its most odious coercive forms, persist in democratic systems? This book suggests that politicians can get away with clientelism by using forms of it that are in line with the policy preferences of constituencies whose votes they need. Clientelistic and programmatic strategies are not as distinct as previous have argued.


Conditionality and Coercion is an inspiring piece of political science scholarship that innovatively combines theoretical sophistication with empirical rigor. The book compellingly argues that clientelistic practices cannot be divorced from programmatic policy positioning. Instead, politicians choose different clientelistic strategies depending on the policy signals they wish to send to the electorate.  Distinguishing between negative and positive inducements, the book excels at demonstrating how different modes of clientelism systematically vary across locations and voter groups. In addition to fresh theoretical insights, the book contains a wealth of fascinating empirics. Set in Hungary and Romania and analyzing clientelistic exchanges across dozens of locations, hundreds of semi-structured interviews, and thousands of voters, Mares and Young’s research is an exemplary model of multi-method work. The authors’ extensive, on-the ground fieldwork and original quantitative analyses produce a remarkable and convincing account of clientelism in contemporary Eastern Europe. “Conditionality and Coercion” will be indispensable reading for anyone interested in clientelism, Eastern European politics and society, and threats to liberal democracy.” — William Riker Award Committee, American Political Science Association

Mares and Young deliver a theoretically incisive and methodologically innovative analysis of clientelistic practices in postcommunist polities that is obligatory reading for any student of electoral politics. It vividly demonstrates that different forms of clientelism, and particularly the prevalence of coercive modes of targeted political exchange, are embedded in distinctive social and political settings. Empirically, the authors base their analysis on some of the highestquality data ever collected in the study of clientelism, both through systematic surveys as well as through ethnographic work with hundreds of qualitative interviews yielding empirically and theoretically pertinent-if not shocking-insights.” — Herbert Kitschelt, Duke University

Conditionality and Coercion fills an important gap in the study of clientelism by explaining when and why politicians use different strategies at their disposal, and particularly how they balance positive and negative inducements. Mares and Young’s most novel theoretical intuition is that the choice of strategies sends informational signals to voters, extending the reach of any clientelistic exchange beyond its recipient. Policymakers and students of democracy have much to learn from this innovative book about the often subtle ways coercion is deployed for electoral gain.” — Jessica Gottlieb, Texas A&M

“Combining evidence from largescale surveys and intensive fieldwork, Isabela Mares and Lauren Young show how and why politicians mix different clientelistic strategies-including crucially both persuasion and coercion-to signal their policy preferences. Scholars of clientelism and Eastern European politics will benefit equally from reading this outstanding book.” — Thad Dunning, University of California Berkeley

“This sophisticated, rigorous, and meticulously documented analysis demonstrates that clientelism takes a surprising variety of forms-and that coercion and voter intimidation, rather than voluntary exchange and favors, can fundamentally characterize these relationships. This fascinating and compelling study redefines our understanding of clientelism, coercion, and class politics.” — Anna Grzymala-Busse, Stanford University

“Mares and Young use both ethnographic and survey evidence to analyze everyday politics in poor rural regions of Hungary and Romania. Local politicians use their discretion in allocating state resources to buy votes; they also exploit political differences within the community by applying welfare programs in a coercive manner, thus attracting support from the working poor. This signaling blurs the distinction between clientelistic and programmatic appeals. Threats seem to be more effective than gifts, and employers or moneylenders are often used as intermediaries. Such tactics are used by parties on both the Right and the Left. A flawed electoral system combines with such factors as corruption and poverty to lead to widespread disillusionment with the efficacy of democracy. Exemplary in its use of both qualitative and quantitative methods, this book will be of interest to students and scholars of electoral politics around the world.” — Peter Rutland, Wesleyan University, Choice