Research on political clientelism has provided conflicting findings on citizen perceptions and evaluations of clientelism. Survey as well as ethnographic research sometimes finds that citizens reject clientelism and politicians making clientelistic offers and at other times that citizens find clientelism acceptable and perceive clientelistic politicians as caring. The paper "Citizen Assessments of Clientelistic Practices in South Africa" builds on current literature on the characteristics of diverse types of clientelism and argue that the differences in evaluations result partly from differences in the type of clientelism that is studied. To investigate this idea, we conduct focus groups in low-income urban and rural areas in South Africa about how clients and citizens understand and evaluate different forms of clientelism in South Africa.
We identify five distinctive exchange types across groups. Citizens evaluate vote-buying exchanges pragmatically but all other types negatively: relational forms of clientelism are seen as stirring welfare competition and coercive forms as unlawful. Patrons are mostly seen as selfish but views on clients vary across types. Citizens describe clients in vote-buying and coercive clientelism as victims and in relational types as egoistic. These findings suggest that citizens in communities where clientelism is prevalent have highly differentiated views on different types of clientelism and the actors involved in it.