cli·​en·​tel·​ism ˌklī-ən-ˈte-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce clientelism (audio)
: a political or social system based on the relation of client to patron with the client giving political or financial support to a patron (as in the form of votes) in exchange for some special privilege or benefit
In some countries, such as Greece, there has been a clear policy of "clientelism" in which political parties have rewarded their supporters with jobs and benefits that have been funded by the general taxpayer.The Economist, 14 Apr. 2012
clientelist adjective
or clientelistic
It is a culture propagated by clientelist politics, which encourages voters to exercise their franchise in return for personal favours and not for the public good. Brenda Power, The Irish Daily Mail, 31 July 2012
… grant favours to their provincial colleagues in return for the promise of their blocks of votes and these colleagues pass on a proportion of the favours to their middlemen, who return the service by 'delivering the vote' for the candidate of the governing clique. It is clientelist in that each of the actors in the game has a number of clients dependent on him, and they in their turn have more clients—until the level of the electorate is reached. S. E. Finer, Comparative Government, 1975
… his analysis of the US, which he sees as the pioneer of the kind of clientelistic politics that now afflicts so much of sub-Saharan Africa. The US in the 19th century ran on a spoils system, in which parties wooed voters with the promise of jobs and favours. Adam Kirsch, Prospect, 16 Oct. 2014

Word History


clientele + -ism (probably after French clientélisme)

First Known Use

1913, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of clientelism was in 1913

Love words?

You must — there are over 200,000 words in our free online dictionary, but you are looking for one that’s only in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary.

Start your free trial today and get unlimited access to America's largest dictionary, with:

  • More than 250,000 words that aren't in our free dictionary
  • Expanded definitions, etymologies, and usage notes
  • Advanced search features
  • Ad free!

Dictionary Entries Near clientelism

Cite this Entry

“Clientelism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Sep. 2023.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!