The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Science

Authors: Bogdanor
Summary: In less than 300 words, this entry defines patronage, discusses its political significance, provides examples of contemporary patronage and briefly mentions how patronage is dealt with by the literature.
Patronage is defined as "the acknowledged right of a political authority to appoint people to positions of responsibility following its own opinion, preference or interest." Despite its increasing use as a synonym for clientelism, patronage is a legitimate, formal procedure. In fact, some political systems actually provide for patronage to a certain extent. For example, some elected leaders have significant appointment powers. In the United States this is also referred to as the 'spoils system.'
As the government has expanded its influence in society, so has patronage expanded its operating sphere. Patronage is now common in areas like the civil service, state industry and the banking system. Unregulated patronage degenerates into clientelism.
Patronage as defined by this entry does not have its own body of literature within the discipline of political science. The concept is handled elsewhere--usually in specific studies of political systems, most particularly the United States.