I'm looking for a word that describes favoritism granted in politics or business regardless of merit, but not just towards relatives.

  • Old boy's network... Old school tie – mplungjan Sep 10 '13 at 13:37

I like to use cronyism in that setting. It works especially well if you are trying to imply a degree of corruption as well.

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Since you mention relatives, I assume you are discarding nepotism but you shouldn't, it is exactly the word you are looking for. While the original meaning does imply a blood relation it is often used to refer to favors done to friends as well. See, for example, this definition:

favouritism shown to relatives or close friends by those with power or influence

Another good option is cronyism:

Favoritism shown to old friends without regard for their qualifications, as in political appointments to office.

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Well there's always favouritism!

Thesaurus.com gives as synonyms for nepotism (which comes from nepos, Latin for nephew, so is generally restricted to relatives):

preferential treatment

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Consider patronage

the power to control appointments to office or the right to privileges: recruits are selected on merit, not through political patronage

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