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Coethnicity Beyond Clientelism: Insights from an Experimental Study of Political Behavior in Lebanon

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 November 2021

Melani Cammett*
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
Dominika Kruszewska-Eduardo
Independent Scholar
Christiana Parreira
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
Sami Atallah
The Policy Initiative, Beirut, Lebanon
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Melani Cammett, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. E-mail:


A large literature finds that coethnicity primarily shapes voter behavior through material exchanges, particularly clientelism. Yet identity groups provide distinct psychological and social benefits that also compel people to vote based on coethnicity. Does coethnicity matter for vote choice, net of instrumental considerations? We address this question using a conjoint experiment in Lebanon, which asked a nationally representative sample of citizens to choose between potential candidates in national elections. We find that coethnicity is the single strongest predictor of electoral support, more important than party affiliation, provision of clientelism, or programmatic platform. Coethnicity does not significantly alter perceptions of candidates who provide clientelism, including high-value goods like patronage employment. Furthermore, citizens who feel closer to their ethnic group are more likely to vote on the basis of coethnicity, as are those with lower levels of trust in state institutions. Collectively, these findings suggest that coethnic voting in diverse polities is not driven solely by clientelism, but also by less immediately material concerns about security and belonging.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association

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