Ethnicity or race

Ethnic identity is the inclination of an individual to define themselves in terms of their cultural origin and descent-based traits (Olorunsola, 1972; Horowitz, 1991; Berman et al., 2004). In line with this argument, Wolfinger (1965, p. 896) suggests that ethnic identity or origin represents one of the strongest dimensions of people’s perception of themselves and of others and is therefore considered to play a very important role in politics. Based on these findings, I move forward with the argument that ethnicity is one of the most essential variables in the demographic model, but the question that arises is how does ethnic identity/race influence people’s propensity to vote in an election? When ethnic identity becomes sufficiently strong it can constitute the basis for forming political opinion and in stimulating people’s voting decisions; this, of course, usually leads to what some experts term “ethnic voting”. Wolfinger (1965) explains ethnic voting as a situation where members of a cultural group tend to show disproportionate affinity at the polls for a particular political party. Because of the strong affinity that people share with others, parties, interest groups, or other social groups may take advantage of this and therefore mobilise individuals who then tend to vote as a bloc.

Posner (2005) stipulates that the logic of ethnic voting can be explained by the fact that when people from the same descent are mobilised, they tend to turn out to vote since they believe they are expressing their solidarity with their group. This act of group solidarity might elevate leaders from their own ethnic background to positions of power, most especially in the political executive, thereby gaining collective representation. As some scholars have highlighted, this can lead to election outcomes that are mere headcounts of ethnic groups, that is, if turnout is high and if all voters chose parties associated with their own communal identities then an election can resemble an ethnic “census” (Lever, 1979; Horowitz, 1985; Ferree, 2006; McLaughlin, 2008). In many African, Latin America, and East Asian countries, it is common for people to show a strong affinity with a particular ethnic or tribal group. Because of this strong affinity that people share with others, parties may take advantage of this and therefore mobilise individuals who may then tend to vote as a bloc. In sum, drawing these studies, it might seem that ethnicity has two

Why citizens vote 21 dimensions relevant to turnout.13 One is the nature of the particular ethnic group (i.e. whether they have a distinct propensity to participate in the electoral process). The other is the degree to which ethnicity is a political cleavage in a given country. So, people from group A may vote more because people of group B are mobilised to vote more. In new democracies, particularly those of sub-Saharan Africa, this is likely to be an interesting line of analysis. Based on this, I would, therefore, expect people who have strong ethnic attachments to have a high propensity to vote.14

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