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Campaigns and ethnic polarization in Kenya


This dissertation examines the polarizing effects of electoral competition in Kenya's multiethnic democracy. I argue that polarization results from a combination of the messages parties use to demonize opponents and the tendency by voters to accept more readily messages from co -ethnic leaders. The argument starts with an investigation of campaign targeting decisions. I show, contrary to much of the existing ethnic politics literature, that in Kenya the competition for swing groups (ethnic communities that do not have a co-ethnic leader in the presidential race) is at the heart of electoral contests. The need to attract support across group lines drives message development, leading parties to craft appeals that communicate their inclusive intentions while relying on negative ethnic messages to vilify opponents as ethnic chauvinists. I argue that because of the strong association between ethnicity and trust, voters in the ethnic communities associated with the leading parties internalize messages offered by distinct sets of political elites during campaigns. The result is that negative ethnic appeals exacerbate divisions across communities during the race. To develop and test these claims, I draw on a wide range of empirical evidence collected from Kenya's four multiparty races since the reintroduction of competitive presidential elections in 1991

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