GLD Working Papers

The Social Embeddedness of Elections: Ghana’s 2016 and 2020 Campaigns

George M. Bob-Milliar and Jeffrey W. Paller


Research on electoral mobilization in Africa focuses on core versus swing voters, clientelistic linkages, and ethnic voting. This paper adds an important yet understudied addition to this scholarship: the social and institutional dynamics of electoral mobilization. Drawing on a dataset of campaign visits in Ghana’s 2016 and 2020 elections, Bob-Millar and Paller treat elections as an ongoing process, emphasizing the spatial targeting of campaign events and their ritualistic quality, as well as the social embeddedness of political parties in local constituencies. First, the authors find that a significant political learning process took place between 2016 and 2020 for candidates of the two major parties. Second, they note the importance of incumbency advantage – as opposed to ideological or demographic factors – in shaping campaign targeting, particularly the type of campaign visit. Third, they explain how political parties are socially embedded and rely on occupational groups like market associations and fisherfolk to mobilize voters. The paper concludes that research on election campaigns considers the social and institutional dynamics shaping political mobilization.

Keywords: Elections, campaigns, mobilization, social embeddedness, Ghana

Local Control: How Opposition Support Constrains Electoral Autocrats

Rachael McLellan


Scholars conceptualize autocrats as central planners, constrained in how much they can distribute but not where. Autocrats use punishment regimes to sanction disloyalty. In many electoral autocracies, local institutions are the infrastructure of reward and sanction, a legacy of decentralization in the 1980s and 1990s. McLellan shows that autocrats face subnational constraints on their ability to enforce punishment regimes. Using administrative and electoral data, interviews, and a survey in Tanzania, she demonstrates that local control – who wins elected control of local institutions – determines the autocrats’ ability to punish opposition support. She shows incumbent local governments (LGs) punish opposition support while opposition LGs do so less. McLellan find that the extent to which opposition parties can disrupt or even flip the punishment regime depends on the level of de facto decentralization of the local public good in question. As a result, survey respondents in opposition LGs fear community punishment less, making it easier for them to vote on conscience. This suggests even small pockets of opposition support constrain autocrats. This study demonstrates the importance of subnational politics in the study of autocracy and suggests a more democratic legacy of decentralization than prevailing scholarship would suggest.

The (Spatial) Ties that Bind: Frequent Casual Contact, the Shadow of the Future, and Prosociality Across Ethnic Divisions

Paige Bollen


What can spur prosocial behavior across ethnic divisions? A host of studies focus on the potential power of deep contact between group members. Bollen instead focuses on the capacity of casual contact. While most research finds that a higher volume of casual contact with outgroup members augments divisions between groups, she centers her analysis on the under-theorized effect of repeated casual contact with the same outgroup members. Bollen uses a survey experiment in Accra, Ghana to show that repeated casual contact can increase prosocial behavior towards non-coethnics because it shifts individuals’ expectations about sanctioning, reciprocity, and findability. By exploring the space between social embeddedness and social anonymity, these findings add consideration to the consequences of repeated casual contact in the inter-ethnic relations literature.

Do List Experiments Run as Expected? Examining Implementation Failure in Kenya, Zambia, and Malawi

Kristen Kao and Ellen Lust 


A fundamental premise of list experiments is that they allow respondents to hide sensitive attitudes and behaviors among a list of other items. List experiments accomplish this by asking the respondent to count both sensitive and innocuous items, rather than answering questions directly about each item. Social scientists widely employ list experiments to overcome sensitivity bias but have not yet systematically studied whether the complicated nature of these experiments leads to implementation errors. Analysis of a list experiment across three countries suggests that respondents reveal their direct responses to list items more than half of the time. This problem is particularly prevalent among less educated and older respondents, and the complicated nature of the question mediates the relationships between age and education and reveals answers. Kao and Lust encourage scholars to include questions about implementation problems as standard follow-ups in list experiments to understand if they worked properly in the field.

Keywords: List experiment, survey methodology, Sub-Saharan Africa, sensitivity bias, social desirability bias

Roadblocks Remain: Constrains to Women's Political Participation in Pakistan

Natalya Rahman and Sarah Thompson


How can governments encourage political participation by all? In this study, the authors ask why certain groups are less likely to vote solely based on where they are assigned to vote and argue that mobility plays an important role. They focus on Pakistan, the world’s sixth-most populous country. Despite instituting reforms like single-gender polling stations, Pakistan is among the lowest-ranked countries for women’s political participation. This paper uses 2018 polling station data to show that mixed-gender polling stations increase women’s turnout. The authors also present descriptive findings to show that chance assignments to certain polling stations make women, but not men, more likely to turn out. They then use a survey experiment to test one possible explanation—mobility. Constraints to mobility have been shown to negatively impact women’s educational and labor force choices, but their impact on women’s political participation has not been directly tested. The paper finds that when women’s mobility is constrained by a lack of male accompaniment or they expect to travel along a predominantly male route, their likelihood to turn out decreases. It also find that women are more likely to vote in areas familiar to them (i.e., primary schools where they drop their children and girls’ schools they attended). The study implies that strategies to increase women’s political participation in developing democracies should take the role of women’s mobility seriously.