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Accountability Under Devolved Government: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Kenya

Leonardo Arriola, director of UC Berkeley's Center for African Studies, discusses how information and partisanship influences how Kenyan voters evaluate local incumbents.

May 17, 2018
from 03:00 PM to 04:30 PM

Kerr Hall Room 693

Abstract: Political decentralization in African countries has the potential to transform the relationship between citizens and their representatives. But scholars have yet to fully understand whether or how voters adapt to the accountability demands imposed by having to elect representatives at multiple levels of government. Do voter assessments of local politicians depend on coethnicity, as prior studies have shown with national politicians? Are voters willing to update their assessments of incumbent performance based on new information? To answer such questions, we examine how voter evaluations of local incumbents are conditioned by information and partisanship in Kenya. An experimental survey design presented respondents in two local counties with randomized positive versus negative information about the performance of incumbent county governors in the run‐up to the 2017 elections. The results show that some voters are willing to update their vote preference based on positive information about incumbent performance. These effects, however, are found almost exclusively in a single county, where
exposure to positive information significantly increases the likelihood of voting for the incumbent even among non‐coethnics, non‐copartisans, and respondents with prior negative evaluations of the incumbent. We postulate that the divergent outcomes may be driven by inter‐county differences in socio‐political fragmentation that preceded devolution.

Leonardo R. Arriola's research focuses on democratization, governance, and violence in African countries. He has conducted field research in countries such as Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Kenya. He is author of Multiethnic Coalitions in Africa: Business Financing of Opposition Election Campaigns (Cambridge University Press 2013). His work has also been published in journals like the American Journal of Political Science and World Politics. He is the current Chair of the African Politics Conference Group (APCG), an organized section of the American Political Science Association (APSA) and an affiliate of the African Studies Association (ASA).