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Ethnicity, Electoral Institutions, and Clientelism: Authoritarianism in Jordan


A surprisingly large proportion of the world's dictators today hold elections, so much so that scholars have coined the term ``electoral authoritarianism" to identify this oxymoronic phenomenon. Yet, the role these elections play in shaping authoritarian politics for the regime and its citizenry alike is undertheorized. Do the specific types of institutions that govern elections under authoritarianism matter? In democracies we see sustained relationships between voters and their elected representatives. Do elections shape enduring citizen-state linkages under authoritarianism or are they simply isolated events of state-society interaction? Moreover, how do electoral institutions under authoritarianism interact with salient ethnic cleavages and local political landscapes? I argue that the way in which electoral institutions are structured have meaningful consequences for citizens living under authoritarianism much as they do for those living in democracies – a fact that is almost completely overlooked in the literature. Taking electoral institutions under authoritarianism seriously, this research analyzes the effects of variations in electoral rules on voter behavior, parliamentarian clientelistic service provision, and ethnically-based citizen-state linkages.

Drawing upon data I collected from over two years of fieldwork in Jordan, I investigate how the Jordanian regime overcomes a classic conundrum for dictators who hold elections: how to cultivate widespread loyalty to the regime while maintaining deep-seated divisions among the elite and the masses alike to avoid threats to their power from unmitigated collective action. I claim that elections help the ruler solve both sides of this quandary. I leverage shifts in the electoral institutional design throughout history to investigate how different types of electoral institutions are structured to ensure that parliamentarians win their seats with narrow voter coalitions rather than broad-based ones, encouraging parliamentarians to win their seats based on clientelistic rather than programmatic appeals. I explain how the use of a single, non-transferable vote system favors political mobilization on ethnic lines when compared to the use of a single-member plurality system in Jordan. The dataset I draw from comprises of the full election results from 1989 to 2013, parliamentarian constituent casework logs, tribal indices I constructed for each electoral district, more than a hundred qualitative interviews with stakeholders in the elections, as well as a national poll of eligible voters in Jordan.

My empirical evidence demonstrates how elections serve as a reliable mechanism of rent distribution in authoritarian settings, facilitating the purchase of loyalty from tribal sectors of the population who have historically been open to trading support for privileged access to state benefits. Under these conditions, parliamentarians spend all of their time catering to the personal concerns of their constituents rather than pursuing national legislation and they become beholden to the regime for fulfilling their requests. In the final chapter, I show how the rules governing the elections can either enhance or diminish ethnic identity as the basis for political mobilization and distribution of government goods and services long after the elections. These findings are evidence that for citizens living in a dictatorship electoral institutional design plays an important role in their ability to access state goods and services through their member of parliament.

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