How do elite parties win over poor voters while maintaining their core constituencies? How can religious parties expand their electoral base? This article argues that social service provision constitutes an important electoral strategy for elite-backed religious parties to succeed in developing democracies. The study demonstrates how the upper caste, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won unexpected support from lower-caste voters in India, due to services provided by its grassroots affiliates. Using a combination of original survey data and extensive interviews, the author tests whether services win votes and identifies the mechanisms by which they do so. Beneficiaries of services were found to be far more likely to support the party, even when accounting for piety, income, and ideological orientation. The author argues that service provision as an electoral strategy cannot be conceptualized as being predicated purely on material exchange. It should instead be understood as a socially embedded tactic especially well suited to helping elite parties with organizational resources, but without pro-poor policy agendas, win over underprivileged electorates.
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