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Islam's Political Advantage: Evidence from Indonesia

Colloquium with Prof. Thomas B. Pepinsky, Department of Government, Cornell University

Monday, April 12, 2010
12:30 PM - 2:00 PM
4357 Bunche Hall
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Across the Muslim world, Islamic political parties and social organizations have capitalized upon economic grievances to win votes and popular support. But existing research has been unable to disentangle the role of Islamic party ideology from programmatic economic appeals and social services in explaining these parties’ popular support. This presentation argues that contrary to widely accepted beliefs, Islamic party platforms play no direct role in explaining aggregate political support for Islamic parties. Rather, Islamic platforms provide voters with information that serves as a cue to attract Muslims who are uncertain about parties’ economic policies.

Using experiments embedded in an original nationwide survey in Indonesia, it finds that Islamic parties are systematically more popular than otherwise identical non-Islamic parties only in cases of economic policy uncertainty. When respondents know economic policy platforms, Islamic parties never have an advantage over non-Islamic parties. The research findings reject both reductionist and essentialist conceptions of Islam’s political advantage. They demonstrate that Islam’s political advantage is real, but critically circumscribed by parties’ economic platforms and voters’ knowledge of them.

Thomas B. Pepinsky is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government and a faculty affiliate of the Southeast Asia Program at Cornell University. He works on comparative and international political economy, with a focus on emerging markets. His research spans several substantive areas, including international finance, authoritarianism and regime change, and the modern political economy of Southeast Asia. He received his PhD from Yale University in May 2007.

Cost : Free and open to the public.


Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Political Science

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