Playing to Lose? Legislative Candidacy in Africa's Electoral Authoritarian Regimes
Zanzibaris protest delayed election results
Chairs: Michael Bernhard and Staffan I. Lindberg .
About 30% of countries in the world are ruled by electoral authoritarianism, where a ruling party allows opposition without true challenges to their incumbency. More than half of these regimes are found in sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of countries in the sub-continent feature non-democratic, multiparty elections.
What can be gleaned from the literature about candidacy, however, offers few scenarios where opposition candidacy is strategic in such a setting. Why opposition candidates and parties challenge authoritarian incumbents is an understudied area of political science but it is vital to understand how regimes with weak opposition develop into competitive democracies.
I study the puzzle of opposition candidacy in the context of Tanzania, where Chama Cha Mapinduzi has ruled for over 50 years. Drawing from nearly three years of fieldwork, the project uses a first-of-its-kind empirical strategy. It combines (1) in-depth, theory-building interviews, (2) archival work on the internal politics of parties in Tanzania, (3) a collection of 725 CVs of current and former Tanzanian Parliamentarians, and (4) a multi-faceted survey design. The survey includes (a) current Tanzanian legislators, (b) losing candidates from Tanzania's 2010 elections, (c) unsuccessful nomination seekers, and (d) "prospective candidates" from party women's and youth wings who considered seeking nomination but ultimately chose not to. My theory and evidence advance our understanding of candidacy in electoral authoritarian regimes in four major ways.
First, I demonstrate that important differences in intraparty politics between ruling and opposition parties shape the incentives of running for office. While the ruling party has significant advantages in supporting candidates on the campaign trail, a highly skilled and committed pool of prospective candidates make winning nominations challenging. Thus, while most literature on candidacy focuses almost entirely on elections, my research shows that intraparty nominations loom large when individuals consider running for office.
Second, my research also challenges a notion that the benefits of candidacy are similar across parties. By contrast, my original theory of candidacy emphasizes diversity in benefits of office. For example, individuals value benefits like passing symbolic legislation or the financial incentives of office-holding differently. Further, in authoritarian settings where elections represent "winner take all" politics par excellence, parties are both heterogenous and constrained in what they can offer candidates and legislators. My research is novel in highlighting the importance of compatibility between candidates preferences over the benefits of candidacy and parties' ability to deliver them. I also illustrate that prospective legislators can benefit by seeking out party nominations and by running for office, even when they lose. While most literature emphasizes what is to be gained from office-holding, my dissertation sheds light on what prospective candidates gain along the candidacy path.
Third, I show that candidacy costs in electoral authoritarian regimes are not just monetary. Using an approach that measures risk attitudes with cultural proverbs known as methali, I find that opposition candidates are more willing to risk bearing the non-financial costs of candidacy against the government.
Lastly, I elucidate the way early life trajectories impact candidacy decisions made years or decades later. Introducing the concept of "career partisanship," I find that early experience with the ruling party in electoral authoritarian regimes predisposes individuals to later candidacy with that party. By contrast, opposition candidates frequently are first exposed to politics and candidacy aspirations through activism in civil society organizations. My research uses a culturally informed, innovative survey technique known as the "life history calendar" to record information about past party and political experiences. My research is second in political science to employ the "life history calendar."
Funding: $53,000 (APSA Africa Workshops, Fulbright-Hays DDRA Fellowship, International Law and Policy Institute, University of Florida Center for African Studies, University of Florida Department of Political Science)