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Choice and Choice Set in African Elections

Studies of voting behavior usually start with voters, theorizing how voter psychology or preferences shape choice. But what if choice sets predetermine choice? This article argues for a reorientation of how we think about voting behavior, from an exclusive focus on microfoundations to one acknowledging structure. It does so through the lens of African coethnic voting. Using data sets matching vote choice with candidate characteristics in Kenyan, Ghanaian, and Ugandan legislative elections, it shows that around two-thirds of voters in these elections saw ballots with either all coethnics or no coethnics at all. Their decision to vote coethnically (or not) was thus made for these voters long before they set foot in polling stations. Shifting from choice to choice set crystallizes the meeting point of structure and agency, inducing us to theorize factors shaping behavior beyond voters themselves: candidate entry decisions, constituency boundaries, and the geographic distribution of populations.