Local Government Proliferation, Diversity, and Conflict

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Samuel Bazzi and Matthew Gudgeon
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ESOC Working Paper No. 5

The creation of new local governments is a pervasive feature of decentralization in developing countries. This redistricting process often causes substantial changes in two widely debated sources of conflict: diversity and contestable public resources. Using new geospatial data on violence and the plausibly exogenous timing of district creation in Indonesia, we show that allowing for redistricting along group lines can reduce conflict. However, these reductions are undone and even reversed if the newly defined electorates are ethnically polarized, particularly in areas that receive an entirely new seat of government. We highlight changes in the salience of ethnic cleavages as a key mechanism driving the violent contestation of political control. Overall, the findings illustrate the policy tradeoffs associated with redistricting and offer novel insight into the instrumental role of ethnicity in shaping conflict.