Dissertation/Book Project

Enduring Disapointment: How social psychology explains party ties in emerging democracies

Committee: Noah Nathan (co-chair, MIT), Allen Hicken (co-chair), Charlotte Cavaille, and Ted Brader.

Supported by grants from the International Policy Center at the Ford School of Public Policy, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan African Studies Center, the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies, and the University of Michigan International Institute. Data was collected with assistance from CDD-Ghana and an outstanding team of field research assistants.

This project asks how parties in developing democracies leverage psychological and subjective rewards flowing from voters' social identities to elevate engagement and support. It departs from previous instrumental models of identity and political behavior to elevate the role of motives that do not carry clear material value and may be unconscious to voters themselves. Through original fieldwork including a lab-in-the-field experiement with Ghanaian voters, I show not only that identities are psychological in nature, but that they can readily be primed-- demonstrating a new channel by which voters come to support young, weak, or underperforming parties. I also demonstrate that counter to prevailing wisdom, partisanship is a salient and powerful social identity for many voters despite the ubiquity of ethnicity. 

Social identity and implicit motives in clientelist democracies: Evidence from Ghana (download)

Abstract:  Many scholars of developing democracies understand voters to primarily be utility maximizers, supporting the party that will most improve their material welfare. In this frame, identity is central, serving as the coordinating mechanism and informational cue, matching voters and parties in clientelist exchanges. Missing from many such treatments of party attachment is the presence of affective identification. Pursuing this perspective can begin to explain key sources of subjective and non-material motives in voter behavior. Using an original lab-in- the-field experiment, I show that in addition to instrumental incentives, voters in Ghana carry psychological attachments to political groups, both partisan and ethnic. I also show those identities facilitate biases and preferences that may allow parties to remain competitive at the ballot box without improvements in performance. Further, I show that despite partisanship often being conflated with ethnicity and being the less salient identity in day-to-day life, it outstrips ethnicity in producing these non-material biases and preferences. These results show not only that social identity salience and subjective rewards play an undertheorized role in political behavior in developing democracies, but that parties can rely on them to maintain electoral support.

How close is "close": Capturing political belonging in developing democracies with multi-item measures (download)

Abstract:   Political identities in the developing world have typically been studied as ascriptive and instrumental in nature. Recently, scholars have begun to afford social categories and partisanship itself subjective and affective dimensions. While a deep literature describes variation on a binary notion of partisan belonging, this paper treats quasi-continuous variation in affective group attachments as the dependent variable. Using original survey data from a diverse sample of Ghanaian voters and a six-item measure of partisanship, I explore and compare the origins of partisan identity. I show that several predictors that have been theorized to drive partisanship in the Global South do not appear associated with this concept of partisanship, while several commonly studied factors from advanced democracies do transfer well to the Ghanaian case. I compare to a similar measure of ethnic belonging and show the often-aligned identities appear to be supported by a largely divergent set of factors. Lastly, I find this measurement approach should be attractive to scholars that seek to explain how poorly-performing candidates and parties succeed.