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Crossing the Line: Local Ethnic Geography and Voting in Ghana

  • NAHOMI ICHINO (a1) and NOAH L. NATHAN (a1)

Theories of instrumental ethnic voting in new democracies propose that voters support co-ethnic politicians because they expect politicians to favor their co-ethnics once in office. But many goods that politicians deliver to voters are locally nonexcludable in rural areas, so the local presence of an ethnic group associated with a politician should affect a rural voter's assessment of how likely she is to benefit from that politician's election. Using geocoded polling-station–level election results alongside survey data from Ghana, we show that otherwise similar voters are less likely to vote for the party of their own ethnic group, and more likely to support a party associated with another group, when the local ethnic geography favors the other group. This result helps account for the imperfect correlation between ethnicity and vote choice in African democracies. More generally, this demonstrates how local community and geographic contexts can modify the information conveyed by ethnicity and influence voter behavior.

Corresponding author
Nahomi Ichino is Associate Professor, Department of Government, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA 02138 (
Noah L. Nathan is Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Government, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA 02138 (
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American Political Science Review
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