What motivates individuals to participate in contentious, political forms of collective action? In this article, I consider the possibility that the promise of social esteem from an ingroup can act as a powerful selective incentive for individuals to participate in contentious politics. I conducted a field experiment—the first to my knowledge to take place in the context of a political march, rally, or social-identity event—to isolate this esteem mechanism from others. Using measures of intent to attend, actual attendance, and reported attendance at a gay and lesbian pride event in New Jersey, I find evidence that the promise of social esteem boosts all three measures of participation. The article offers new theoretical and practical implications for the study of participation in nonvoting forms of collective action.
In recent years, the number of field experiments using public officials as subjects has increased. Some of these experiments are relatively cheap and easy to replicate, and yet, the ethical guidelines for dealing with this particular class of subjects are in some ways both nascent and underdeveloped. If this line of research is to continue in a responsible manner, it is worth considering whether there are particular ethical questions raised by using elite, public servants as subjects and if so, how we might deal with those ethical questions. I am not a moral philosopher, and I do not have hard and fast answers to the issues I raise below. I am sympathetic to these types of experiments, having conducted one myself, but I am also sensitive to issues raised by their critics. I hope the following will encourage further debate.
There are at least two reasons public officials differ from citizens as experimental subjects. First, when we use public officials as subjects, the behavior we are trying to observe and affect is usually part of their routine, public duties. This may mean that the societal benefits of the knowledge gleaned from these experiments are particularly great. But it also introduces questions about whose resources are being used while subjects take time to participate, as well as questions about debriefing and appropriate compensation. Second, public officials are a limited pool, and they often control public purse strings, including funding for universities and research. This difference introduces questions about researchers’ ethical responsibilities to other researchers when conducting experiments with public officials. Let me consider each of these differences in turn.
Scholars have begun to investigate the mechanisms that link ethnic diversity to low levels of public goods provision but have paid only minimal attention to the role of preferences for public policies. Some argue that ethnic groups hold culturally distinctive preferences for goods and policies, and that such differences impede effective policy making, but these studies provide little evidence to support this claim. Others argue that preferences do not vary systematically across ethnic groups, but again the evidence is limited. In this article, we engage in a systematic exploration of the link between ethnic identity and preferences for public policies through a series of individual and aggregated analyses of Afrobarometer survey data from 18 sub-Saharan African countries. We find that in most countries, preferences do vary based on ethnic group membership. This variation is not merely an expression of individual-level socioeconomic differences or of group-level cultural differences. Instead, we suggest that citizens use ethnicity as a group heuristic for evaluating public policies in a few predictable ways: We find more persistent disagreement about public policies between politically relevant ethnic groups and where group disparities in wealth are high.