Rejecting Ethnic Pandering in Urban Africa: A Survey Experiment on Voter Preferences in Nairobi, Kenya

AuthorHye-Sung Kim,Jeremy Horowitz
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2022, Vol. 75(4) 12401254
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211040516
Rejecting Ethnic Pandering in Urban
Africa: A Survey Experiment on Voter
Preferences in Nairobi, Kenya
Hye-Sung Kim
and Jeremy Horowitz
Ethnic pandering, in which candidates promise to cater to the interests of coethnic voters, is presumed to be an effective
strategy for increasing electoral support in Africas emerging multiethnic democracies. However, ethnic political
mobilization may be disdained by citizens for its divisive and polarizing effects, particularly in urban areas. As a result,
pandering may fall on deaf ears among Africas urban voters. This study examines how voters in Kenyas capital city,
Nairobi, respond to ethnic pandering using data from a vignette experiment conducted in 2015 and a replication study
implemented in 2016. Results show that respondents are more supportive of candidates who make ethnically inclusive
rather than targeted appeals, regardless of whether the candidate is identif‌ied as a coethnic. We pro pose that the results
are driven by a broad distaste among urban voters for parochial politics, rather than by strategic calculations related to
candidate viability.
ethnicity, ethnic pandering, campaign appeals, urban voters, Africa, Kenya
Ethnic mobilization is a routine feature of electoral
competition in Africas emerging multiparty democracies.
A standard assumption in the ethnic politics literature is
that candidates bolster their support among coethnic
voters by appealing to shared ethnic interests (Horowitz
1985;Posner 2005). Ethnic panderingthat is, promising
to cater to the interests of ones group, above all with
respect to the allocation of patronage resources including
jobs, scholarships, funds for roads, and other discre-
tionary goods provided by the governmentserves as
useful strategy for augmenting coethnic support (Nathan
2019;Wantchekon 2003). Yet, ethnic pandering entails
risk, particularly in Africas diverse urban areas.
Promises to favor one group will alienate voters from
other communities. Targeted promises may also run
afoul with coethnic voters, the intended target for such
appeals. Africas cities have become considerably more
integrated in recent decades: inter-marriage is common
(Bandyopadhyay and Green 2021;Crespin-Boucaud
2020), a growing share of mixed-ethnicity citizens
trace their lineage to multiple communities (Dulani et al.
2021), and social networks frequently extend across
ethnic divisions. Moreover, parochial attachments are
weaker in urban areas (Kramon et al. 2021;Robinson
2014). In line with contact theory (Allport 1954), we
propose that social integration in urban areas may temper
ethnic preferences, leading votersparticularly longer-
term residents and those whose social networks are more
diverseto disfavor narrow appeals to ethnic interests
that promise to favor one group at the expense of others.
This proposition cuts against the grain of contemporary
research. Recent scholarship shows that parties continue
to rely on appeals to ethnic interests in urban Africa (Klaus
and Paller 2017;Nathan 2019) and that ethnicity remains
highly salient to urban voters. In Kenya, the focus of this
study, ethnic bloc voting rates in Nairobi, the capital city,
are on par with rural settings. However, we caution against
drawing inferences about ethnic political preferences
solely from observed voting behavior. As noted in prior
Department of Political Science, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC,
Department of Government, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Hye-Sung Kim, Department of Political Science, Winthrop University,
Rock Hill, SC 29733, USA.

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