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Voting in Kenya: Putting Ethnicity in Perspective


  • Michael Bratton

    (Michigan State University)

  • Mwangi S. Kimenyi

    (University of Connecticut)


Do Kenyans vote according to ethnic identities or policy interests? Based on results from a national probability sample survey conducted in the first week of December 2007, this article shows that, while ethnic origins drive voting patterns, elections in Kenya amount to more than a mere ethnic census. We start by reviewing how Kenyans see themselves, which is mainly in non-ethnic terms. We then report on how they see others, whom they fear will organize politically along ethnic lines. People therefore vote defensively in ethnic blocs, but not exclusively. In Decem- ber 2007, they also took particular policy issues into account, including living standards, corruption and majimbo (federalism). We demonstrate that the relative weight that individuals grant to ethnic and policy voting depends in good part on how they define their group identities, with "ethnics" engaging in identity voting and "non-ethnics" giving more weight to interests and issues.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Bratton & Mwangi S. Kimenyi, 2008. "Voting in Kenya: Putting Ethnicity in Perspective," Working papers 2008-09, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:uct:uconnp:2008-09

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gero Erdmann, 2007. "The Cleavage Model, Ethnicity and Voter Alignment in Africa: Conceptual and Methodological Problems Revisited," GIGA Working Paper Series 63, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies.
    2. Norris, Pippa & Mattes, Robert, 2003. "Does Ethnicity Determine Support for the Governing Party? The Structural and Attitudinal Basis of Partisan Identification in 12 African Nations," Working Paper Series rwp03-009, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
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    Cited by:

    1. Thomas Bossuroy, 2011. "Ethnicity and Election Outcomes in Ghana," Working Papers DT/2011/05, DIAL (Développement, Institutions et Mondialisation).
    2. Paul Collier & Pedro Vicente, 2012. "Violence, bribery, and fraud: the political economy of elections in Sub-Saharan Africa," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 153(1), pages 117-147, October.
    3. Adrienne LeBas, 2017. "Who trusts? Ethnicity, integration, and attitudes toward elected officials in urban Nigeria," WIDER Working Paper Series 126, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    4. Roxana Gutiérrez-Romero, 2012. "An Inquiry into the Use of Illegal Electoral Practices and Effects of Political Violence," CSAE Working Paper Series 2012-16, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    5. Mwangi S. Kimenyi & Roxana Gutierrez Romero, 2008. "Tribalism as a Minimax-Regret Strategy: Evidence from Voting in the 2007 Kenyan Elections," Working papers 2008-35, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
    6. Dionne, Kim Yi & Horowitz, Jeremy, 2016. "The Political Effects of Agricultural Subsidies in Africa: Evidence from Malawi," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 87(C), pages 215-226.
    7. Samuel Brazys & Peter Heaney & Patrick Paul Walsh, 2014. "From the Great Lakes to the Great Rift Valley: Does Strategic Economic Policy Explain the 2009 Malawi Election?," Working Papers 201401, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
    8. repec:dau:papers:123456789/6268 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Cheeseman, Nic, 2014. "Does the African middle class defend democracy? Evidence from Kenya," WIDER Working Paper Series 096, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).

    More about this item


    Democracy; Elections; Kenya; Ethnic Divisions; Ethnic Conflict.;

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • D78 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Positive Analysis of Policy Formulation and Implementation

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