While vote-buying is common, most models of elections suggest it should not exist given that politicians and voters cannot credibly commit. We argue that vote-buying is sustained by an internalized norm of reciprocity. Receiving money engenders feelings of obligation, while not receiving money engenders desires for revenge. Combining survey data on vote-buying with experiment-based measures of reciprocity from both voters and middlemen engaged in vote-buying, we show that politicians target reciprocal individuals. This highlights the importance of social preferences in determining behavior, particularly when commitment problems are present.
Fred Finan is a professor of economics at UC Berkeley whose research interests are Development Economics and Political Economy. He is an affiliate of Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development(BREAD), and a research fellow at IZA and National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).