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Appealing to the Masses: Understanding Ethnic Politics and Elections in Indonesia Open Access

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The mobilization of ethnic groups during elections is seen by many as one of the greatest threats to democracy in ethnically diverse societies. Two important questions are: Why does ethnicity become politicized in some elections, but not in others? and Why do particular ethnic categories become politicized, while others do not? Two arguments in the literature offer explanations. The first argument posits that groups are mobilized along ethnic lines when voters have strong emotional allegiances to their ethnic group; in effect, the ethnic politicization of elections is viewed as a reflection of societal ethnic cleavages. A second argument focuses on electoral rules and asserts that proportional representation politicizes ethnicity by enabling small ethnic parties to compete. Unfortunately, the empirical evidence to support these arguments is limited. This dissertation takes a more dynamic approach by focusing on individual candidates and their incentives to make ethnic appeals. I argue that under party-centric electoral rules, a candidate's ethnic appeals are influenced from above--by their party's stance on ethnic issues. In contrast, under candidate-centric rules, a candidate's ethnic appeals are influenced from below; in particular, by the size of ethnic groups within the candidate's electoral district.Indonesia is an ideal country for testing this argument. It is the third largest democracy in the world, and in recent years it has had both party-centric and candidate-centric elections. In addition, ethnicity in Indonesia is diverse and multidimensional, with salient indigenous and religious ethnic categories. For field research, I spent almost two years in Indonesia attending campaign events and interviewing elites and voters during numerous elections. To gather data on ethnic appeals, I collected election-related newspaper reports from 1997 to 2011, photographed 15,000 election posters, and gathered identity information on over 2,000 candidates across the country. This is the largest collection of election posters ever analyzed and the first time they have been used to analyze patterns of ethnic appeals. I coded the reports and the posters for ethnic appeals and differentiated between ethnic bonding appeals (appeals to one of the candidate's own ethnic groups) or ethnic bridging appeals (appeals to other ethnic groups).Findings help explain the politicization of ethnicity. They show that as Indonesia's elections have become more candidate-centric, there has been an overall decline in partisan appeals and an increase in appeals to local indigenous and religious groups. In addition, when Indonesian candidates make ethnic appeals in candidate-centric elections, it is the size of ethnic groups that largely determines whether they make ethnic bonding or ethnic bridging appeals. Candidates choose to make ethnic bonding appeals if they are members of an ethnic group that is large enough to secure victory in their electoral district. Otherwise they switch to ethnic bridging appeals. In contrast, candidates competing under party-centric rules are less likely to appeal to local indigenous and religious groups and more prone to appeal to partisan identities. However, when they do appeal to ethnic groups, their choice of ethnic bonding or ethnic bridging appeals is largely determined by their party's official stance on ethnic issues. The argument proves to be superior to the competing explanations; it not only explains when ethnicity becomes politicized, but is able to predict the particular ethnic category that an individual candidate will politicize in their election campaign.

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