Ethnic Parties and Public Spending: New Theory and Evidence From the Indian States


Social scientists largely see ethnic politics as inhibiting public goods provisioning within developing democracies. Such parties are thought to uniformly rely on distributing excludable benefits to co-ethnics, rather than on providing public goods to all. We argue that ethnic parties can vary substantially in how they mobilize support and behave in office. Much of this variation depends on the breadth of the identity they activate. Although “narrow” ethnic parties do indeed entrench patronage politics, the rise of more “encompassing” ethnic parties can actually improve levels of voter autonomy, expand the effective size of winning coalitions, and increase spending on broadly available public goods. We develop and test this argument with evidence from the Indian states, including a nationally representative survey of 20,000 Indian voters and a panel data set of 15 major states over four decades.

Comparative Political Studies