How do local elites influence voting in new democracies like Senegal?

Hand places ballot into ballot box

During the past summer, Assistant Professor Jessica Gottlieb and three student interns from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University traveled to the West African country of Senegal to conduct two months of intensive fieldwork and research.  Based out of a local research institute in Dakar, the nation’s capital, the team sought to understand how local elites—religious, traditional, or political leaders—can wield their influence to guide voters’ decisions, even when it goes against the voters’ best interests.

“Many citizens in new democracies are subject to the influence of powerful local elites when they go to cast their vote,” Gottlieb said.  “This is not necessarily a bad thing, but these local elites can also abuse their status and influence in ways that are more beneficial to themselves than the voters,” she added.

The fieldwork involved a household survey, leader survey, and a series of behavioral games conducted in sixty-four rural Senegalese villages.  With the assistance of three Bush School students and several members of the local Senegal community, the research project was divided into three stages: training and preparation, fieldwork, and data entry.

More at the Bush School of Government and Public Service

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