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. 

Job Market Paper (download)

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


Many policy actors and most scholars of developing democracies understand voters to be utility maximizers, supporting the party that has or will most improve their material welfare. In this frame, identity is often central, but not for its substantive content; instead, it is the coordinating mechanism by which politicians can signal to a constituency they will favor them and by which voters can probabilistically determine who will benefit them the most. Missing from most empirical analyses of such cases is a social identity approach to group belonging that can give structure to key sources of subjective and non-material influences on political behavior. Using an original lab-in-the-field experiment, I show that voters in Ghana carry psychological attachments to groups that facilitate biases and preferences that allow parties that deliver little to their voters to remain competitive at the ballot box. 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 likely rely on them as an important substitute for other dimensions of performance.

Equivalent or intersecting? Separating political identities in an experiment with Ghanaian voters (download)


Scholars of the developing world are increasingly integrating a social identity view of mass politics to complement existing instrumental theories. Across both approaches, empirical con- tributions can be classified according to whether they view partisanship as a product of another identity, or one of independent and distinct meaning. In this paper, I identify and test four hypotheses that describe the relationship of political identities to the voter and the relationship of those identities to each other: (1) hand-in-glove–wherein distributive ethnic politics defines voting blocs and partisanship is primarily a label of convenience, (2) affective partisanship – corresponding to an internalized group identity and an associated partisan label of convenience, (3) coalitional partisanship– wherein voting blocs are studied as a coalition of subordinate identies, and (4) multiple belongings– wherein voters can experience both social and partisan ties with affect-driven sense of belonging. I evaluate these through an original lab-in-the-field experiment, manipulating partisan and ethnic identity salience of Ghanaian voters. I find both exist as affective political identities, in support of (2) and (4). However, I also find partisanship appears to outstrip ethnicity in its ability to foster group orientations over the short-term, in support of them being independent social categories (multiple belongings). Results suggest a need for greater focus on the distinct social construction of the underlying groups and on the subjective motivations that extend from belonging into politics.

The Shape and Origin of Partisanship in Developing Democracies


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 the extensive margin of belonging, this paper treats variation in psychological group attachments in young democracies as the dependent variable. Using original survey data from a diverse sample of Ghanaian voters, I explore and compare the origins of ethnic and partisan identity. I show that several predictors that drive partisanship in the Global North and were assumed to affect attachments in younger democracies do not have discernible impacts in Ghana. In contrast, I find that partisanship and ethnicity are more often driven by local context, "the practice of partisanship", and clientelist expectations.