BREAD Working Paper No. 531, May 2018

The Political Boundaries of Ethnic Divisions

Samuel Bazzi, Matthew Gudgeon


This paper argues that redrawing subnational political boundaries can transform ethnic divisions. We use a natural policy experiment in Indonesia to show how the effects of ethnic diversity on conflict depend on the political units within which groups are organized. Redistricting along group lines can reduce conflict, but these gains are undone or even reversed when the new borders introduce greater polarization. These adverse effects of polarization are further amplified around majoritarian elections, consistent with strong incentives to capture new local governments in settings with ethnic favoritism. Overall, our findings illustrate the promise and pitfalls of redistricting in diverse countries.

Keywords: Conflict, Decentralization, Ethnic Divisions, Polarization, Political Boundaries

JEL Codes: D72, D74, H41, H77, O13, Q34

Download paper in PDF format