Winning Proposal to the Pierce Scholar's Fund: 2005 Competition

Project Title: Region, Religion, and Representation: Electoral Behavior in Indonesia

Faculty Sponsor and PI: Allen Hicken

Ph.D. Student: Jennifer Epley

Project Description

This project is designed to examine the ways in which Indonesia's new electoral institutions are shaping a) the salience of religious and regional cleavages (voters attitudes towards regarding those cleavages), b) the behavior of voters and, c) the development of Indonesia's party system. After the collapse of the thirty-year-old Suharto regime, Indonesian reformers are attempting to craft a new democratic framework. During an earlier democratic experiment Indonesian governments made up of multiple, weak parties proved indecisive, corrupt, and ultimately unstable. In an effort to avoid the chaos of the 1950s the new constitution contains provisions aimed at reducing the number of parties at the national level and strengthening party organization. This includes provisions that effectively ban regional or local political parties from national elections. Also, for the first time since 1957, religious parties are now allowed to freely form and compete for elected office.

We are interested in the ways in ways the attitudes and behavior of Indonesia voters and party elite are being shaped by the electoral environment. We focus on the effects of allowing religious parties to compete in national elections while effectively barring local/regional parties. Specifically, we seek to test the following hypotheses (we are happy to supply more information on the logic behind each hypothesis upon request).

  1. Voters for whom region is their primary identity should be less likely to vote in national elections than voters for whom religious identity is paramount. The opposite should hold for regional elections.
  2. Voters for whom region is their primary identity should have more pessimistic views of Indonesia's democratic institutions than voters for whom religious identity is paramount.
  3. Religious cleavages should be evident in national elections (e.g. secular v. non-secular, moderate Islam v. radical Islam, etc.) while regional cleavages should be evident in subnational elections.

In addition to these hypothesis we are interested in investigating the effect of regional party bans on the strategies of regional partisans. To what extent and with whom do they ally for national electoral purposes? Is there are link between electoral exclusion and radicalization of regional groups?

Jennifer Epley, the graduate student applicant, will be spending the summer of 2005 in Indonesia working on this project as well as on her own dissertation. We are seeking funding to collect three types of data. First, we have developed contacts with Indonesia's foremost public opinion firm, the Indonesian Survey Institute, and need funds to include a series of questions on the identities, democratic attitudes, and voting behavior of Indonesians in the ISI's national survey. Second, we intend to collect electoral return data for both national and regional elections. Finally, Ms. Epley will conduct a series of semi-structured interviews with regional and religious party elite to begin to understand their strategic responses to the new electoral environment.