No.33 Mixed Records, Cognitive Complexity, and Ethnic Voting in African Elections
Karen E. Ferree, Clark C. Gibson, and James D. Long
The preference of African voters for co-ethnic candidates is well documented in studies of African political behavior. However, African voters also seem to value good government performance. When does ethnicity trump performance? We theorize that a citizen’s vote choice depends in part on the cognitive complexity she faces when assessing candidates. We argue that citizens incur greater cognitive costs when appraising candidates with mixed – versus uniformly positive or negative – performance records, inducing them to rely more on informational shortcuts like ethnicity to guide their vote. Thus, performance voters may become ethnic voters when the challenges of evaluating performance increase. We test and find support for this hypothesis using a survey experiment implemented in a nationally representative exit poll during Kenya’s 2013 election. Findings demonstrate that ethnic and performance voting is not always the product of fixed dispositions, but instead may emerge in response to voters’ informational context.