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In defense of a divided opposition: programmatic distribution and ethnic minor party support

Elizabeth Carlson

Political Science Research and Methods, 2021, vol. 9, issue 4, 745-759

Abstract: Why do so many voters in African countries vote for minor ethnic parties instead of unifying into a powerful multi-ethnic opposition coalition? I present a model that demonstrates that as the incumbent devotes more resources to programmatic goods, which voters can access regardless of how they voted, the opportunity cost of voting for a sincerely preferred, but losing, candidate decreases. I provide experimental and cross-national observational evidence that voters are more likely to support a minor party as they perceive more or more valuable goods being distributed programmatically. Those who perceive poor distribution, or only clientelist distribution, instead vote strategically for a major opposition party. In general, support for minor parties increases along with positive outcomes and approval of the incumbent.

Date: 2021
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