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Determinants of Local and National Vote Choice: Evidence from a Conjoint Experiment

Monday May 7, 2018, at 13:30
Room 24.120 (first floor). Mercè Rodoreda 24 building
Research seminar

Ellen Lust (Yale University)

What drives vote choice? This paper presents a first systematic theorization and empirical investigation of this question at different election levels in developing countries. The literature on elections in new democracies largely assumes that determinants of vote choice in one type of election generalize to other elections. Yet, voters view the attributes of candidates very differently when they run for local versus national elections. Using a conjoint survey experiment we empirically test for differential determinants of vote choice across Malawi's local, parliamentary, and presidential elections. We find that a candidate's party affiliation is a key driver of vote choice in local elections while ethnicity is the main determinant in national elections. We theorize that this disparity arises because voters recognize that elected positions differ in the degree of power officials hold and access to resources accorded to them. National level officials enjoy resources that they can allocate to co-ethnics, while local office holders are resource poor and thus rely on national level politicians for resources required to meetconstituents'; demands. Voters recognize that politicians and government officials support local politicians from their own party. Consequently, citizens vote for national level politicians who are more likely to reward them (e.g., co-ethnics), but local level politicians who are able to obtain resources from above (e.g., co-partisans with national politicians). This study provides a unique theory of elections and illustrates that we cannot necessarily export findings from presidential or parliamentary elections to local elections, contradicting a core assumption of much of the extant literature on vote choice.

Ellen Lust is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Founding Director of the Program on Governance and Local Development at Yale University.  Her books include Structuring Conflict in the Arab WorldPolitical Participation in the Middle East, co-edited with Saloua Zerhouni; Governing Africa’s Changing Societies, co-edited with Stephen Ndegwa, the 12th and 13th editions of The Middle East, an edited textbook, and the forthcoming Taking to the Streets: The Transformation of Arab Activism, co-edited with Lina Khatib.  She has also published articles in such journals as Comparative Political StudiesInternational Journal of Middle East StudiesPolitics and Society, and Comparative Politics.  Her work broadly examines political participation and governance.  She is currently writing a book examining the politics of elections in the Arab world, and a jointly authored volume (with Jakob Wichmann and Gamal Soltan) on the Egyptian transition.  Ellen has conducted fieldwork, implemented public opinion polls, and led alumni tours across the region, including in Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia. She also served as a founding associate editor of the journal, Middle East Law and Governance, sponsored by the University of Toronto and Yale University Law Schools, and currently serves as the President of its Board of Directors.