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late 14c., "right of presenting a qualified person to a church benefice," from Old French patronage (14c.) from patron (see patron). Secular sense of "action of giving influential support" is from 1550s. General sense of "power to give jobs or favors" is from 1769; meaning "regular business of customers" is 1804.
The power of a government official or leader to make appointments and offer favors. Once in office, a politician can use patronage to build a loyal following. Though practiced at all levels of government, patronage is most often associated with the machine politics of big cities. (See spoils system.)