The Autocratic Voter: Understanding Partisanship and Electoral Behavior under Authoritarianism
In autocracies, why do some citizens support the regime in power while others defect? By taking seriously the role of partisanship and voting behavior in electoral autocracies, this book seeks to better understand the nature of defection under autocracy. The vast majority of our theories of authoritarianism start from the perspective of the regime, making arguments about the role of elections, institutions, repression, and cooptation to explain regime longevity, and, in the macro-level sense, mass legitimacy. In contrast, this book 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? The argument hinges on the long-standing finding from democratic countries that citizens with higher levels of socioeconomic status (citizens with more resources, education, and social status) are better situated to participate in politics. However, under authoritarianism, socioeconomic status alone cannot explain who supports the regime and who defects to the opposition. In order to explain the cleavage between pro- and anti- regime partisans, we must understand the ability of the regime and the opposition to cultivate support. The argument highlights three key factors to understanding support and defection: information, patronage, and coercion. Citizens with higher access to information, those least connected to networks of regime patronage, and those most vulnerable to state repression should all be more inclined to support the opposition and democratization. Alternatively, ordinary citizens with less information, who are embedded in patronage networks, and who face little threat of repression should be most inclined to support the autocratic regime. Further, not only can these three factors help to explain whether an individual is more or less inclined to support the regime, they can also explain variation in support for authoritarianism across different countries. Because an individual who is embedded in patronage networks is more inclined to support the autocratic regime, we can extrapolate that autocratic ruling parties with wider patronage networks should attract larger numbers of partisan supporters. Highly repressive autocracies should feature lower numbers of partisan supporters. Regimes that highly regulate information likely depress partisanship across the board, but most strongly amongst opposition partisans. These factors can help to explain why some regimes build mass-based, highly inclusive ruling parties, while others rely on demobilizing citizens and depressing partisanship.
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, while others see it as democratic and legitimate? Traditionally, indicators such as income and education have been the most important factors to explaining why different types of citizens understand politics. This paper argues that in electoral autocracies, we must also take into account the role of political geography. Opposition parties are often one of the only actors that provide information about the authoritarian nature of the regime, but their message tends to get quarantined within their strongholds. 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 find evidence for this theory using Afrobarometer survey data paired with hand-coded constituency-level electoral returns from five electoral autocracies in sub-Saharan Africa.
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.
Expressive Voting 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. 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. The article presents data from an original quasi-national public opinion survey conducted in Cameroon, which shows that non-economic reasons for voting can explain more variation in voting behavior than economic reasons. These different motivations challenge the implications of existing models of democratization by explaining how some of the poorest electoral autocracies have withstood decades of economic stagnation.