Testing Islam’s Political Advantage: Evidence from Indonesia
50 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 24 Aug 2009
Date Written: 2009
Across the Muslim world, Islamic political parties and social organizations have capitalized upon economic grievances to gain political support. But existing research has been unable to disentangle the role of Islamic party ideology from programmatic economic appeals and social services in explaining these parties' popular support. We argue that contrary to widely accepted beliefs, Islamic party platforms play no direct role in explaining aggregate political support for Islamic parties. Rather, Islamic platforms provide voters with information that serves as a cue to attract citizens who are uncertain about parties' economic policies. Using experiments embedded in an original nationwide survey in Indonesia, we find that Islamic parties are systematically more popular than otherwise identical non-Islamic parties only under cases of economic policy uncertainty. When respondents know economic policy platforms, Islamic parties never have an advantage over non-Islamic parties. Our findings demonstrate that Islam's political advantage is real, but critically circumscribed by parties' economic platforms and voters' knowledge of them.
Keywords: uncertainty, populism, parties, public opinion, religion and politics, experiments, Islam, Indonesia
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