The political patronage It is a type of relationship between rulers or officials and civil groups. This relationship is characterized by an exchange of favors between the two groups, that is, mutual benefit is given.
In this type of relationship, officials occupy the role of patron, while civil groups occupy the role of client. That is why it is also called patronage.
Groups of civilians, or individuals, benefit from privileges, exemptions, or even contracts with the state. In exchange for these favors, the government typically gets the benefit of votes at election time. When it comes to relationships with media, they can show a positive image with the officials with whom there is a patronage relationship.
Therefore, clientelism is a relationship of exchanges of favors. However, a fundamental characteristic is that these favors are never formally stated, as would be the case with a contract or an agreement between parties, but are based on verbal agreements.
Although both groups benefit, there is a relationship of domination, due to unequal access to state or economic power.
The development of clientelism depends in part on the monopoly of powers: the more power a group or individual has, the more possibilities it has to exercise patronage with civilians.
Patronage also depends on the poverty of the population, since the bosses take advantage of the needs for their own ends. On the other hand, the political participation of the population goes directly against clientelism, since political convictions prevent individuals from being co-opted as clients.
Examples of political patronage
- Official propaganda in the media. A part of the state budget is used to disseminate the acts of government. In other words, the state pays for a form of official propaganda in various media. The distribution of these funds is rarely equitable, but many governments hire more spaces in media that are favorable to them. This is the most difficult form of clientelism to monitor, because the same media are responsible for hiding their relationships with different governments.
- During the end of the year many private organizations distribute special meals to the public. If this is done by a supermarket or any other company, with its own funds, it is a promotional strategy. However, if it is done by an official, with funds, personnel or means of transportation that belong to the public administration, it is a case of patronage. For this reason, the use of public funds is officially decided when defining the budget for each locality at the beginning of the year.
- Gifts in exchange for displaying badges. Political parties have a large number of participants and voters who support them in their various demonstrations and projects. In other words, people are part of a political party or support its initiatives out of conviction, believing that these initiatives will be beneficial to the community. However, some political parties may offer gifts (gasoline, food, money, etc.) for wearing party insignia or participating in its rallies.
- In Latin America, the term “clientelism” began to be used to refer to patron-client relationships with respect to land tenure. The landowners granted a precarious tenure of certain plots. This was done officially in exchange for work or services, but informally their loyalty was also expected.
- Client capitalism: It is assumed that in capitalist economies business success depends exclusively on the market. However, the intimate relationships between companies and officials debunk this assumption. In practice, success depends on the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax arrangements, among other benefits. This type of clientelism occurs in all economies, even the most solid in the world, such as Japan or South Korea.