Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Shulman, Stephen


Over the last four decades, many developing countries transitioned to democracy with populations aspiring to break from authoritarian tradition for more representative government. While this wave of democratization was encouraging initially, observers came to realize that the break from tradition was anything but complete. The traditional clientelistic relations that pervaded political systems during authoritarian periods have been eroded by democratization in some countries, while in other countries, clientelism is thriving and continuing to impact political participation, primarily through vote-buying between patrons and clients. Therefore, the extent to which democratization erodes clientelism as widely expected, could not be assumed. The questions of what are the causal effects of clientelism on political participation, how does the vote-buying process unfold, how effective are the efforts to combat vote-buying, and what is the debate over the ethics of vote-buying motivate this dissertation; I draw on the experiences of Thai provinces to answer them. The objective of this dissertation is to examine the impact of clientelism, measured by vote-buying, on political participation using a multi-method approach. Using new primary and secondary data sources, I make several important original contributions with this study. First, I answer the question regarding the causal effects of clientelism on political participation by testing the resource theory and the theory of clientelism. I find that the poor, who are most likely to be enmeshed in clientelistic networks, voted just as often as the rich in two of the three general elections and both the national and local level elections. People in the countryside, the poor, vote more than their urban counterparts in both the national and local level elections. The poor also participate in the other forms of politics just as much as the rich. I find those with less education vote just as much as those with more education in all three general elections and the national level election, however, those with higher education voted more in the local level election. Those with higher education also boycott, demonstrate, and sign petitions more than those with lower education. I find that clientelism is the reason lower socioeconomic status rural individuals participate in politics as without clientelism, they would not be expected to participate as much as their richer and more educated urban counterparts. Second, I answer the question regarding how the vote-buying process unfolds by exploring original primary interview data collected by the author of elite and mass views of vote-buyers, sellers, intermediaries, and the vote-buying process. I find that all the actors involved have their own reasons and motivations for participating in the vote-buying process: vote-sellers are predominantly poor and poverty drives their need for the compensation provided through vote-buying, while vote-buyers and their intermediaries are very much aware of the needs of potential vote-sellers and they intentionally exploit these needs. Even though the poor are driven to become vote-sellers, we cannot readily assume that vote-buying is successful for vote-buyers, or in other words, we cannot assume that vote-buying results in votes for the vote-buyer. Prior to my study, scholars have made such an assumption, whether directly stated or inferred, which may lead to erroneous conclusions about the effectiveness of vote-buying resulting in votes for the vote-buyer. To overcome this, I developed a model of the vote-buying process where vote-buying is divided into specific steps: the offer to buy votes, the acceptance of the offer, the compensation, the showing up at the polls, and the casting of a vote for the vote-buyer. By employing my model of the vote-buying process, we see that sometimes voters act in a manner that is consistent with the vote-buyer's demands and others times they do not at virtually all the steps of the vote-buying process for very specific reasons, including poverty. Third, I answer the question regarding the effectiveness of efforts to combat vote-buying by exploring elite and mass views of the effectiveness of institutional constraints and civic education in combating vote-buying. My findings suggest that institutional constraints, namely the Election Commission, have some impact on reducing vote-buying, though the Election Commission is plagued with far-reaching limitations. I find attempts at civic education, however, are not really measurable. Even if these attempts at civic education were measurable, I do not believe there is any reason to suspect they would be effective considering they do not address the poverty issue. Finally, I answer the question regarding the debate over the ethics of vote-buying by exploring elite and mass views of the justifications for vote-buying. I then analyze the impact of vote-buying on the legitimacy of the Thai political system. I find that some Thais perceive vote-buying as unethical because it is illegal and dishonest, while others do not necessarily perceive vote-buying as unethical because of poverty and vote-buying norms Thais use to justify selling their votes. Moreover, I find that poverty and vote-buying norms impact the legitimacy of the Thai political system, especially for the rural poor, to the point where I argue that vote-buying does not necessarily negatively impact legitimacy of the Thai political system. Overall, this dissertation has answered the important questions about clientelism and the vote-buying measure. This study is important because clientelism is one of the most important informal institutional obstacles to free and fair elections and the findings in this study offer clarity of the impact of clientelism, and the vote-buying measure, on political participation in the Thai context.




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