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Working paper

WP107: Cross-cutting cleavages and ethnic voting: An experimental study of cousinage in Mali

Thad Dunning and Lauren Harrison 3 Apr 2009 Mali
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Social scientists often attribute moderation of the political salience of ethnicity, in ethnically diverse societies, to the presence of cross-cutting cleavages-that is, to dimensions of identity or interest along which members of the same ethnic group may have diverse allegiances. Yet estimating the causal effects of cross-cutting cleavages is difficult. In this paper, we present experimental results that help to explain why ethnicity appears to have little political salience in Mali, an ethnically heterogeneous sub-Saharan African country in which ethnic identity is a poor predictor of vote choice and parties do not form along ethnic lines. We argue that the cross-cutting ties afforded by an informal institution called cousinage help explain the weak association between ethnicity and individual vote choice. Both co-ethnic and cousinage alliances enhance the credibility of politicians’ policy promises, yet neither dimension of identity becomes dominant as a basis for vote choice due to their cross-cutting nature. The experimental research design we introduce may be useful in many other settings.

Thad Dunning

Thad Dunning is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Yale University

Lauren Harrison

Lauren Harrison is a student at Yale College, Class 2009<br />