Why the Poor Vote in Dominant-Party Systems: Community Carrots and Social Sticks (brief results)

In dominant-party states, why do individuals vote in elections with foregone conclusions? It is especially curious in these contexts why the poor—who are often ignored or marginalized by the state—decide to cast their ballots. I posit that communities that collectively rely on the government for public services foster social norms of voting to influence turnout. Motivated by the perception that regimes reward high turnout areas with public goods, these communities use esteem “carrots” and social “sticks” to overcome free-rider incentives and increase the likelihood of receiving services. Individuals who rely on their community for non-material goods, such as information and kinship ties, are most likely to vote. Social norms of voting are stronger in communities that are more dependent on government services. Findings from a lab-in-the-field experiment in rural Tanzania—using a conjoint choice task to mimic an election—indicate the existence of a social norm of voting. In the experiment, respondents are 11 to 13 percentage points more likely to vote in the presence of their peers, compared to when they are in private. The theory, which broadly applies to many patronage-based regimes, documents how communities sustain social norms of voting even where elections lack legitimacy and explains the paradox of high turnout in dominant-party systems.


Published Papers

Grossman, Shelby, Jonathan Phillips and Leah R. Rosenzweig. "Opportunistic Accountability: State-Society Bargaining Over Shared Interests." Comparative Political Studies (2017). Appendix; Replication material; Monkey Cage/Washington Post.

Meyer, Alexander and Leah R. Rosenzweig. "Conjoint Analysis Tools for Developing Country Contexts." The Political Methodologist (2016). Replication material.


Working Papers

Attribute Affinity: US Natives' Attitudes Toward Immigrants (With Adam Berinsky, Tesalia Rizzo, and Elisha Heaps). Abstract

Quid Pro Quo: Voter Reciprocity in Nairobi (with Tesalia Rizzo). Abstract


Projects in Progress

Citizen engagement and political behavior in East Africa (with Lily Tsai and Twaweza East Africa)

Using Facebook for Social Science Research: Suggestions from Online Experiments in Kenya (with Lily Tsai)


Other Writings

Rosenzweig, Leah R. and Lily Tsai. "Low-Cost Experimentation Using Social Media." Evaluating Digital Citizen Engagement: A Practical Guide. World Bank Report, 2016.