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Ethnicity and party preference in sub-Saharan Africa

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Recent research has questioned the notion that ethnicity is the main determinant of party preference in sub-Saharan Africa. Drawing on data from representative survey polls in eight anglophone and francophone sub-Saharan countries, multinomial and binary logit regressions confirm that ethnicity counts but does not explain party preference as a whole. More importantly we find that the relevance of ethnicity varies substantially from country to country. Looking at possible effects, there is little evidence that 'ethnicized' party systems harm democracy; discussing possible structural, institutional and historical determinants of the role of ethnicity in party politics, tentative results suggest that specific integrative cultural features, low ethnic polarization, one-party dominance and a historical non-mobilization of ethnicity might thwart the politicization of ethnicity. Future research should focus on the interaction of several factors and how processes of ethnic mobilization evolve historically.
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Keywords: Africa; ethnicity; party preference; political parties; survey polls

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Institute of African Affairs, Hamburg, Germany

Publication date: 2011-04-01

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