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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Candidates' ethnic backgrounds and voter choice in elections Murakami, Go


Do candidates' ethnic backgrounds matter in elections? More precisely, do they change voters' perceptions about the candidates, and ultimately change their vote choice? If so, in what way and how much? And perhaps more importantly, why? This doctoral thesis attempts to answer these questions using experimental and observational election surveys in Japan and Canada. In the experiments, I aim to estimate causal effects of candidates' ethnic minority status on vote choice, test three relevant theories by examining three moderated effects, and propose two causal mechanisms. With a Canadian Federal election survey merged with candidate background data, I examine whether the findings in the experiments hold in real electoral contexts. This research points to three major findings. First, the estimated average causal effects of candidates' ethnic minority backgrounds were negative. The experiments suggest an approximately 6 percentage point drop when the ethnicity of the target candidate changes from majority to minority backgrounds. Second, two important voter heterogeneities for this effect are repeatedly found. As implied by the two relevant theories, voters who have negative affect and attitudes towards ethnic minorities, and those who oppose ethnically relevant policies that benefit ethnic minority groups, were much less likely to vote for an ethnic minority candidate. Third, in the experiments, some evidence for a trait or affect-driven mechanism was found, while more consistent support for a relevant policy preference cue mechanism was observed in both countries. The former mechanism highlights the importance of multiple candidate contests in the experiments, as voters improved their candidate impressions and affective reactions to the opponent(s) rather than devaluing the ethnic minority candidate. The latter mechanism identifies specifically what the candidates' ethnic minority status means to voters. It suggests that some voters do not vote for an ethnic minority candidate because they use ethnicity to estimate the policy preference of the candidate on the ethnically relevant policy dimension. Thus overall, candidates' ethnicity influences vote choice at a modest level, but its effect size varies across voters with different affective orientations and attitudes, and so the process is more complex than straightforward.

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