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Elections and Collective Action: Evidence from Changes in Traditional Institutions in Liberia

  • Kate Baldwin and Eric Mvukiyehe
Extract

Numerous recent field and laboratory experiments find that elections cause higher subsequent levels of collective action within groups. This article questions whether effects observed in these novel environments apply when traditional institutions are democratized. The authors test the external validity of the experimental findings by examining the effects of introducing elections in an indigenous institution in Liberia. They use a break in the process of selecting clan chiefs at the end of Liberia’s civil wars to identify the effects of elections on collective action within communities. Drawing on survey data and outcomes from behavioral games, the authors find that the introduction of elections for clan chiefs has little effect on community-level and national-level political participation but that it increases contentious collective action and lowers levels of contributions to public goods. These findings provide an important counterpoint to the experimental literature, suggesting that elections have less salutary effects on collective action when they replace customary practices.

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