When Refugee Exposure Increases Incumbent Support through Development: Evidence from Uganda by Yang-Yang Zhou

How does exposure to refugees affect politics, development, and citizen support for migration within the Global South? In the context of wealthy consolidated democracies, recent studies have found that when voters are more exposed to refugees, they punish incumbents and turn to far-right parties. Yet there is a dearth of studies on the electoral consequences of refugee hosting in developing countries — contexts in which politics often do not fall on a left-right partisan divide, the welfare state is under-developed, and refugees are more likely to be from similar cultural or ethnic groups. This is a serious omission, given that 85% of refugees and asylum seekers are hosted in the Global South, and that there are good reasons to expect that dynamics are different across contexts. We explore this question in Uganda, one of the largest refugee-hosting countries at 1.4 million. Combining information on the number and location of refugee settlements with four waves of national elections data at the parish level, we show that greater exposure to refugees increases electoral support for the incumbent. Unique longitudinal data on access to healthcare, schools, and roads coupled with national survey data suggest that this effect is due to positive externalities of refugee-hosting on public goods provision for surrounding host communities.

Research Partners
Yang-Yang Zhou, UBC
Guy Gross, UPenn