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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Evading the Patronage Trap: Interest Organizations and Policymaking in Mexico

  • Author(s): Palmer-Rubin, Brian Dale
  • Advisor(s): Collier, Ruth B
  • Collier, David
  • et al.

This study analyzes the participation of Mexican agricultural and small-business organizations in policymaking. Despite the recent focus in the literature on representation of individual citizens—either through party linkages or participatory institutions—the present focus is on the organizations that exist to represent collective interests of small-scale farmers and small-business owners. I analyze the factors that lead some of these organizations to lend voice to the sectors that they represent in the programmatic policies that shape sectoral competitiveness, others to focus their efforts on extracting distributive benefits from the state, and others to be excluded from policymaking processes entirely. While existing research stresses the effect of poverty on demand for patronage, I identify two factors—membership conditions and electoral competition—that can supersede class pressures, permitting organizations to evade clientelistic linkages with political parties and garner effective policy voice.

First, the ability of organizations to independently recruit, retain and mobilize members frees organizations from pressure to enter into dependent linkages with political parties. While such linkages offer particularistic benefits that organization leaders can repurpose as selective benefits to spur member participation, they route organizations into the patronage trap, a self-reproducing cycle in which organizations become specialized for distributive demand making. These linkages convert leaders into electoral brokers and force organizations to forgo protest, lobbying, and other forms of political participation in favor of electoral mobilization, making them ill suited for programmatic demand making. I develop this argument using case studies of economic interest organizations in three Mexican states. Survey analysis of organizations in all Mexican states confirms that independent resource flows and the capacity to generate selective benefits—indicators of member recruitment capacity—are positively associated with organizations’ breadth of mobilization strategies and ability to levy programmatic policy demands.

Second, I show that the dynamics of electoral competition help explain the degree to which ruling politicians incorporate organizations into the programmatic and distributive policymaking arenas. In the presence of electoral competition, interest organizations can credibly threaten to support an opposition party if the ruling party fails to respond to their policy demands. Thus, electoral competition has two effects on organizational participation: First, it affords organizations leverage to pressure politicians for access to the exclusive programmatic policy arena, when state actors may otherwise prefer to limit organizational participation to the distributive arena. Second, competition incentivizes ruling politicians to incorporate organizations from their non-core constituencies (such as peasant organizations for a right-wing party or business organizations for a left-wing party) into policymaking. I build this theory through case studies of state governments under the control of three different political parties with different relationships to peasant and small-business organizations. I then test the argument in the distributive realm with an analysis of distribution data for state-level small-business subsidies across all 32 Mexican states, allowing me to exploit subnational variation in ruling parties and electoral competition.

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