In dominant-party states, why do individuals vote in elections with foregone conclusions when they are neither bought nor coerced? In this Africa Table discussion, Dr. Leah Rosenzweig proposes that a social norm of voting drives turnout where citizens believe that high turnout may be rewarded with collective goods. Local communities overcome free-riding by socially sanctioning abstainers. Using interviews, survey data, and lab-in-the-field voting experiments, Dr. Rosenzweig has documented the influence of social pressure to vote in two semi-authoritarian states in east Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. She finds that norm compliance is driven by those most dependent on their local community. This study reveals that a social norm of voting can exist even where a sense of civic duty to the state may be absent. The findings help to explain high turnout in elections, individual-level variation in voting behavior, and authoritarian endurance. Rather than government accountability, the results suggest that elections may instead be about local accountability to one’s community.
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About the speaker:
Dr. Leah Rosenzweig's research centers on topics in comparative politics and the political economy of development. She focused on the micro-foundations of political behavior to gain leverage on macro-political questions. How do autocrats survive? How can citizen-state relations be improved and government accountability strengthened? Can shared identities mitigate out-group animosity? Adopting a multi-method approach, Dr. Rosenzweig uses lab-in-the-field and online experiments, surveys, and in-depth field research to examine these questions in sub-Saharan Africa and the US. Her current book project reexamines the role of elections in authoritarian endurance and explains why citizens vote in elections with foregone conclusions in Tanzania and Uganda. Moving beyond conventional paradigms, her theory describes how a social norm of voting and accompanying social sanctions from peers contribute to high turnout in semi-authoritarian elections. In other ongoing projects, she studies how national and pan-African identification stimulated through national sports games influence attitudes toward refugees, the relationship between identity, emotions, and belief in fake news, and how researchers can use Facebook as a tool for social science research.