How Programmatic Policies Impact Clientelism: Evidence from Snow Subsidies in Japan


In many democracies, incumbents use government resources to influence how people vote and try to hold recipients accountable for those votes, a practice known as `clientelism'.  How clientelism is impacted by programmatic policies has been the subject of much recent work.  We study this question in Japan, where Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) incumbents cultivate clientelistic exchanges with the municipalities in their districts and also confer large, programmatic benefits upon a group of heavy-snowfall municipalities.  Leveraging the exogenous assignment of the `snow subsidy' and our ability to characterize these clientelistic exchanges with data, our analyses reveal evidence that programmatic policies reduce the cost of exiting a clientelistic relationship, which increases the `price' of beneficiaries' votes.  Incumbents respond by paying this price, meaning they funnel even more clientelistic resources toward beneficiaries.  Thus, programmatic policies can lead to a concentration of resources on beneficiaries, with deleterious consequences for everyone else.