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World Politics

Vol. 66, No. 2

April 2014

How Aid Targets Votes:
The Impact of Electoral Incentives on Foreign Aid Distribution

By Ryan S. Jablonski

Despite allegations that foreign aid promotes corruption and patronage, little is known about how recipient governments’ electoral incentives influence aid spending. This article proposes a distributional politics model of aid spending in which governments use their informational advantages over donors in order to allocate a disproportionate share of aid to electorally strategic supporters, allowing governments to translate aid into votes. To evaluate this argument, the author codes data on the spatial distribution of multilateral donor projects in Kenya from 1992 to 2010 and shows that Kenyan governments have consistently influenced the aid allocation process in favor of copartisan and coethnic voters, a bias that holds for each of Kenya’s last three regimes. He confirms that aid distribution increases incumbent vote share. This evidence suggests that electoral motivations play a significant role in aid allocation and that distributional politics may help explain the gap between donor intentions and outcomes. 

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