American Political Science Review

Research Article

Vote Buying or Turnout Buying? Machine Politics and the Secret Ballot


a1 University of California, Berkeley


Scholars typically understand vote buying as offering particularistic benefits in exchange for vote choices. This depiction of vote buying presents a puzzle: with the secret ballot, what prevents individuals from accepting rewards and then voting as they wish? An alternative explanation, which I term “turnout buying,” suggests why parties might offer rewards even if they cannot monitor vote choices. By rewarding unmobilized supporters for showing up at the polls, parties can activate their passive constituencies. Because turnout buying targets supporters, it only requires monitoring whether individuals vote. Much of what scholars interpret as vote buying may actually be turnout buying. Reward targeting helps to distinguish between these strategies. Whereas Stokes's vote-buying model predicts that parties target moderate opposers, a model of turnout buying predicts that they target strong supporters. Although the two strategies coexist, empirical tests suggest that Argentine survey data in Stokes 2005 are more consistent with turnout buying.


c1 Simeon Nichter is Ph.D. candidate, Travers Department of Political Science, 210 Barrows Hall, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-1950 (


The author would like to thank Susan Stokes, who in the spirit of advancing academic research on this topic, generously provided her full dataset on vote buying in Argentina. I am grateful to the following people for their insightful comments and suggestions: Javier Auyero, Henry Brady, Pradeep Chhibber, David Collier, Miguel de Figueiredo, Thad Dunning, Maysa Eissa, Patrick Egan, Jordan Gans-Morse, Candelaria Garay, Sam Handlin, Sebastian Mazzuca, Suresh Naidu, Paul Pierson, Robert Powell, Philipp Rehm, Neal Richardson, Lee Sigelman, Rodrigo Zarazaga, three anonymous reviewers, and participants in the UC Berkeley Latin American Studies Seminar. Conceptual and formal sections of this paper were presented during the Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models Summer Institute at UC Berkeley (June 13–July 8, 2005). The author also acknowledges the support of the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Education.