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Identity, Grievances, and Economic Determinants of Voting in the 2007 Kenyan Elections

  • Mwangi S. Kimenyi

    (University of Connecticut)

  • Roxana Gutierrez Romero

    (University of Oxford)

What might have caused the post-2007 election violence in Kenya? Was it election irregularities as widely claimed or could it have been simmering ethnic-rivalries waiting to spill over? While not directly focusing on the post-election violence, we investigate a number of issues that divided Kenyans in the 2007 Presidential election. Following a rational choice framework and using survey data of voter opinions, we find that Kenyan voters are strategic, seeking to maximize their well-being and influenced by a number of factors that go beyond their ethnicity such as their absolute and relative living standards, access to public goods and also grievances arising from perceptions of discrimination. The evidence suggests that Kenyan voting behavior is economically motivated, with retrospective interests, thus contrasting other studies that consider Kenyans to be wholly identity voters. The study also reveals significant heterogeneity depending on the voters' primary loci of identification-- either in terms of their ethnicity, occupation or nationalistic terms (Kenyans). The apparent ethnic divisions have resulted in a polarized society with consequential weakening of the institutional base for economic development. The study points to the necessity of institutional reforms that can better harmonize ethnic claims and avert conflicts in the future.

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Paper provided by University of Connecticut, Department of Economics in its series Working papers with number 2008-38.

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Length: 43 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:uct:uconnp:2008-38
Note: This document is an output from research funding by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) as part of the iiG, a research programme to study how to improve institutions for pro-poor growth in Africa and South-Asia. The views expressed are not necessarily those of DFID. The authors are grateful to Center for the Study of African Economies for financial support.
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  1. Aaron Edlin & Andrew Gelman & Noah Kaplan, 2007. "Voting as a Rational Choice: Why and How People Vote to Improve the Well-Being of Others," NBER Working Papers 13562, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Palfrey, Thomas R. & Rosenthal, Howard, 1984. "Participation and the provision of discrete public goods: a strategic analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 171-193, July.
  3. Sebastian Elischer, 2008. "Ethnic Coalitions of Convenience and Commitment: Political Parties and Party Systems in Kenya," GIGA Working Paper Series 68, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies.
  4. 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.
  5. Thomas Palfrey & Howard Rosenthal, 1983. "A strategic calculus of voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 41(1), pages 7-53, January.
  6. John Ledyard, 1984. "The pure theory of large two-candidate elections," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 44(1), pages 7-41, January.
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