Accepted paper:

Persuading partisans or courting 'co-ethnics': The UPND's 2015 & 2016 campaigns in Zambia


Nicole Beardsworth (University of York)

Paper short abstract:

This paper uses data from two opposition party campaigns to contest the prevailing consensus that Zambian politics is driven by an ethnic logic, instead highlighting the diverse strategies used by parties to persuade potential voters in two close elections.

Paper long abstract:

Building on innovative new research on campaigns and rallies in Africa (Paget, 2018; Horowitz, 2016), this paper explores the campaign strategy of Zambia's largest opposition party - the United Party for National Development (UPND). Long described as an 'ethnic' party in a party system defined by high levels of co-ethnic voting, the UPND was not expected to be able to break out of its traditional vote base in the 2015 and 2016 polls.

However, the party defied expectations, going on to lose the elections by the smallest of margins. Drawing on participant observation of over a dozen rallies, video and audio recordings as well as internal campaign documents and GIS mapping of electoral data, this paper will argue that the UPND's campaign strategy does not conform to traditional assumptions about ethnic electoral mobilisation.

While co-ethnicity might be leveraged for political purposes on the campaign trail, this serves to create an air of inevitability of UPND success and demonstrate that the party is the most nationally viable candidate, despite widespread claims of being a 'tribal' party. This paper will explore the performance of 'ethnicity' at rallies, highlighting the ways in which it diverges from and challenges existing academic theories of co-ethnic mobilisation.

panel Pol27
Playing to the crowd: performance and the politics of campaign rallies