Ethnic Voting and Ethnic Parties as Co-Constitutive Phenomena in Sub-Sahara Africa


While ethnicity is recognized as an important political cleavage in Sub-Saharan Africa, the nature and extent of electoral competition along ethnic lines is contested. We argue that previous studies usually do not consider ethnic voting and ethnic parties as co-constitutive phenomena. This complicates models of individual vote choice which take parties as exogenously given. We shed new light on ethnic voting and party systems by modeling both as the partitioning of a network of voters into parties. Our methodological approach estimates the effect of ethnicity on voters partitioning while controlling for confounders. Based on Afrobarometer surveys, initial results show strong and robust effects of co-ethnicity between two voters on the probability of them choosing the same party and thus the endogenous emergence of ethnically aligned parties, conditional on individual and geographic covariates. We explore the mechanisms by which ethnicity increases co-ethnic vote choice and alternative, non-ethnic explanations of place, economic interests, and historical contingencies. We conclude by discussing the potential of our approach to narrow the gap between the study of micro-level voting and macro-level party systems more broadly.