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14-07-2018 | Original Paper | Issue 1/2020

Political Behavior 1/2020

Can Politicians Exploit Ethnic Grievances? An Experimental Study of Land Appeals in Kenya

Journal:
Political Behavior > Issue 1/2020
Authors:
Jeremy Horowitz, Kathleen Klaus
Important notes

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s11109-018-9485-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Abstract

Studies of conflict-prone settings claim that political leaders can increase electoral support by appealing to perceived ethnic grievances. Yet there is little empirical research on how appeals to group-based grievances work and the types of voters most likely to respond to such appeals. To explore the political effects of ethnic grievance appeals, we conduct a survey experiment in Kenya’s Rift Valley, a region where a long history of conflict over land has sharpened ethnic tensions. We find that appeals to grievances have surprisingly little effect among most voters. We observe a positive effect only among ethnic “insiders” who feel land insecure, a small share of the sample population. Further, though imprecisely estimated, we show that exposure to prior violence may condition how some individuals respond to the appeals, decreasing support for candidates who employ divisive rhetoric. Finally, the results show that appeals to an ethnic-based land grievance are no more effective than a generic land appeal, indicating that group injustice frames have little effect. From a normative perspective these results are encouraging: they suggest that voters in conflict-prone settings may be less easily swayed by divisive ethnic rhetoric than much of the literature presumes.

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