Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Charles Hankla

Second Advisor

Jelena Subotic

Third Advisor

Andrew Wedeman


In Central and Eastern Europe, wealth is on the rise, but democracy is in decline. Populist parties assail the foundations of constitutional rule of law and enhance their networks of patronage and clientelism to gain greater support with the electorate. Yet, it is little understood as to why citizens vote for illiberal parties in the region. This paper seeks to address this ongoing phenomenon by exploring voter support for clientelistic behavior by the middle classes of Russia, Poland, and Estonia. I develop and test a theory of “middle class clientelism” which seeks to explain under what conditions more wealthier voters become a cost-effective target for vote buying, patronage, and particularistic goods. The literature on clientelism has been fairly consistent in explaining that middle class voters are too cost prohibitive for parties and elites to clientelize because they have better access to personal wealth and employment opportunities. However, I determine two critical variables that can account for this occurrence. These are the levels of state management of the economy and vulnerabilities within the middle class that has been induced by years of financial crisis in Central and Eastern Europe. This type of clientelism is damaging for democratic outcomes because it allows parties to participate in state capture and fuse themselves into the state without responsive democratic pressure in response from the middle.


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