The Autocratic Voter: Understanding Partisanship and Electoral Behavior under Authoritarianism
For decades, scholars and practitioners alike viewed autocratic elections primarily as 'window-dressings' that lacked political consequence for the regimes that held them. In the past twenty years, with the rise of electoral authoritarianism and the consolidation of such regimes in every region of the world, political scientists have increasingly questioned the received wisdom. However, while we now have a voluminous body of literature centered on the macro-level consequences of autocratic elections, we continue to lack unified theories of micro-level behavior in electoral autocracies. Nearly all of our theories of authoritarianism start from the perspective of the regime, and, as a result, model political behavior based on the incentives provided by the state. In contrast, this book manuscript starts theoretically from the perspective of the citizen. Given an individual’s political, social, and economic experiences as a citizen of an autocratic state, what reasons would one have for participating in politics? Given the political, social and economic differences between citizens, what are the different reasons different types of people have for voting?
In The Autocratic Voter, I propose that partisanship is a critical factor to answering these questions, and that different types of partisans have different reasons for participating in politics. Drawing on both quantitative and qualitative data collected during a year of fieldwork in Cameroon, including an original quasi-national, 2,400-respondent public opinion survey that I personally implemented, electoral and budgetary data collected from the Cameroonian archives, and interviews conducted with elites in all of Cameroon’s major political parties, the book manuscript presents an original theory of partisanship and political behavior in electoral autocracies. I first provide a framework for understanding partisanship, arguing that opposition partisans, ruling party partisans, and nonpartisans are divided by both socioeconomic and ideological cleavages. Further, the nature of these cleavages can help to explain why different types of citizens choose to vote in elections and participate in politics more generally. First, nonpartisans and partisans are fundamentally divided by their socioeconomic status. Because nonpartisans are less likely to possess high levels of education or income, and are more likely to be younger women from urban areas, I argue that they are most affected by social considerations during moments of political activation. Conversely, ruling party partisans, who tend to possess higher levels of socioeconomic status, are ideologically motivated by their support for the regime and potential access to material rewards. Finally, opposition partisans, who also tend to have higher levels of socioeconomic status, are instead committed to an anti-regime ideology, and are therefore motivated to vote when they believe that their actions can undermine the legitimacy of the regime. Overall, this micro-level theory of political behavior in electoral autocracies can give us deeper insight into our macro-level theories of democratization, autocratic consolidation, and regime legitimization.
The Political Geography of Electoral Autocracies: The Influence of Party Strongholds on Political Beliefs in Africa
In electoral autocracies, why do some citizens view the state as autocratic and illegitimate, while others see it as democratic and legitimate? Traditionally, indicators such as income, education, and age have been the most important factors in understanding the ways in which different types of citizens understand politics. This paper argues that in electoral autocracies, we must also take into account the role of political geography. In most electoral autocracies, particularly in Africa, opposition parties dominate in a few electoral strongholds, but are unable to compete against the ruling party nationally. Ruling parties, on the other hand, dominate politics and political communications in most of the rest of the country. I argue that regardless of income, education, ethnicity, or access to government spending, citizens living in opposition strongholds should be far more likely to view the state as autocratic and illegitimate than citizens living in ruling party strongholds. I test this theory using Afrobarometer survey data paired with hand-coded constituency-level electoral returns from five electoral autocracies, and find that political geography is just as (if not more) important as traditional demographic factors to explaining bifurcated views of the state.
The Mechanisms of Direct and Indirect Rule: Colonialism and Economic Development in Africa (with Martha Wilfahrt)
A number of studies have found a positive relationship between British colonialism—specifically indirect rule—and economic development, but there is less consensus as to why indirect rule would produce better economic outcomes. This article develops three specific mechanisms to explain the relationship: the strength of traditional leaders, the salience of ethnic identities, and the legitimacy of local government, and test them using a geographic regression discontinuity research design on Cameroon’s internal Anglophone-Francophone border, a legacy of the country’s dual colonial heritage. We find the most evidence for the third mechanism, suggesting that indirect rule produced better economic outcomes because British colonialism was more likely to decentralize decision-making, which generated a stronger social contract between citizens and local government, imbuing the local state with more legitimacy.
Electoral Behavior in Autocracies: A Theory of Non-Economic Participation with Evidence from Cameroon
Why do people vote in autocratic elections? Until now, most answers to this question have argued that people vote because they expect a material reward, such as patronage or a direct transfer via vote-buying. Using data from an original national public opinion survey implemented in Cameroon, this article argues that citizens also vote for different non-economic reasons, such as a sense of civic duty, a desire to improve the democratic process, and because it is a familial or communal custom. Further, different types of citizens have different non-economic reasons for voting, and the differences between ruling party partisans, opposition partisans, and nonpartisans can help to explain their voting behavior. These different motivations challenge the implications of existing models of democratization.