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Effects of Political Campaigns in Multi-Ethnic Societies: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Kenya

Title
Effects of Political Campaigns in Multi-Ethnic Societies: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Kenya
Speaker(s)
Speaker: Ken Opalo # Georgetown University
Hosted by
Introduced by
Date and Time
6th Mar 2019 16:10 - 6th Mar 2019 17:30
Location
Seminar rooms 1 & 2, Chrystal Macmillan Building, 15a George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LD
URL
http://www.cas.ed.ac.uk/events/seminar_series/2018_2019/effects_of_political_campaigns_in_multi-ethnic_societies_evidence_from_a_natural_experiment_in_kenya

It remains unknown to what extent voters respond to priming versus persuasive campaign appeals in multiethnic societies. While the polarized nature of politics in such countries often leads parties to mobilize support by activating latent ethnic identities, parties are also compelled to win national elections by reaching out to voters across ethnic cleavages.

We assess how voters respond to contrasting appeals by leveraging a natural experiment in the context of the 2017 Kenyan presidential elections. We exploit the timing of a locally-representative survey that straddled an unexpected opposition presidential campaign rally in a populous multiethnic county. We show that the opposition coalition’s efforts to increase its support among non-core voters backfired. The rally caused a significant negative change in the favorability of the opposition presidential candidate, while significantly improving evaluations of the incumbent party candidate.

We attribute these findings to the priming effect of campaign rallies in a context where ethnicity shapes how voters evaluate parties and their candidates. Instead of persuading voters on the basis of valence issues, the campaign rally ultimately primed voters to think of their own identities—a finding supported by the sharp decline in the proportion of respondents identifying in national rather than ethnic terms.

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