Voting for the Devil You Know: Understanding Electoral Behavior in Authoritarian regimes

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In countries where elections are not free or fair, and one political party consistently dominates elections, why do citizens bother to vote? If voting cannot substantively affect the balance of power, why do millions of citizens continue to vote in these elections? Until now, most answers to this question have used macro-level spending and demographic data to argue that people vote because they expect a material reward, such as patronage or a direct transfer via vote-buying. This dissertation argues, however, that autocratic regimes have social and political cleavages that give rise to variation in partisanship, which in turn create different non-economic motivations for voting behavior. Citizens with higher levels of socioeconomic status have the resources to engage more actively in politics, and are thus more likely to associate with political parties, while citizens with lower levels of socioeconomic status are more likely to be nonpartisans. Partisans, however, are further split by their political proclivities; those that support the regime are more likely to be ruling party partisans, while partisans who mistrust the regime are more likely to support opposition parties. In turn, these three groups of citizens have different expressive and social reasons for voting. This dissertation argues that ruling party partisans vote out of a sense of civic duty, opposition parties vote to improve democracy, and nonpartisans vote when they are mobilized by their communities during elections. Overall, the dissertation shows that in Cameroon, expressive and social reasons are more important to explaining the voting act than economic motivations.

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African politics; Authoritarianism; Political Behavior; Political science; public opinion; Cameroon


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van de Walle, Nicolas

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Levine, Adam S.
Bunce, Valerie Jane

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Ph. D., Government

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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