The Ethnicity-Policy Preference Link in Sub-Saharan Africa

Evan S. Lieberman, Gwyneth H. McClendon

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Scholars have begun to investigate the mechanisms that link ethnic diversity to low levels of public goods provision but have paid only minimal attention to the role of preferences for public policies. Some argue that ethnic groups hold culturally distinctive preferences for goods and policies, and that such differences impede effective policy making, but these studies provide little evidence to support this claim. Others argue that preferences do not vary systematically across ethnic groups, but again the evidence is limited. In this article, we engage in a systematic exploration of the link between ethnic identity and preferences for public policies through a series of individual and aggregated analyses of Afrobarometer survey data from 18 sub-Saharan African countries. We find that in most countries, preferences do vary based on ethnic group membership. This variation is not merely an expression of individual-level socioeconomic differences or of group-level cultural differences. Instead, we suggest that citizens use ethnicity as a group heuristic for evaluating public policies in a few predictable ways: We find more persistent disagreement about public policies between politically relevant ethnic groups and where group disparities in wealth are high.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)574-602
    Number of pages29
    JournalComparative Political Studies
    Issue number5
    StatePublished - May 2013


    • Africa
    • ethnic fractionalization
    • ethnicity
    • policy preferences
    • public goods

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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