Activist Origins of Political Ambition: Opposition Candidacy in Electoral Authoritarian Regimes (Under Review)
Zanzibaris protest delayed election results
About 30% of countries in the world are ruled by electoral authoritarianism, where a ruling party allows opposition without true challenges to their incumbency. About 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.
My book studies the puzzle of opposition candidacy in the context of Tanzania, where Chama Cha Mapinduzi has ruled for nearly 60 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 along two key dimensions.
First, I elucidate the way life trajectories impact candidacy decisions made years or decades later and show that early political experiences in political parties versus non-party civic activism shape later candidacy choices. Introducing the concept of "career partisanship", I find that early political experiences 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.
Second, my book highlights important differences between the candidacy calculus of ruling party and opposition candidates in four ways. 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. My research also challenges a notion that the benefits of candidacy are similar across parties, showing that opposition candidates derive different benefits from running for office. I further 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 book sheds light on what prospective candidates gain along the candidacy path. Finally, 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.
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)