Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 15 > Issue 1

How Cross-Cutting Discussion Shapes Support for Ethnic Politics: Evidence from an Experiment in Lebanon

Laura Paler, University of Pittsburgh, USA, lpaler@pitt.edu , Leslie Marshall, University of Pittsburgh, USA, lrm51@pitt.edu , Sami Atallah, Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, Lebanon, sami.atallah@lcps-lebanon.org
Suggested Citation
Laura Paler, Leslie Marshall and Sami Atallah (2020), "How Cross-Cutting Discussion Shapes Support for Ethnic Politics: Evidence from an Experiment in Lebanon", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 15: No. 1, pp 33-71. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00018188

Publication Date: 27 Jan 2020
© 2020 L. Paler, L. Marshall and S. Atallah
Comparative politics,  Political economy,  Political participation,  Political psychology,  Public opinion,  Collective action
Ethnic politicsLebanon


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In this article:
Cross-Cutting Discussion and Support for Ethnic Politics 
The Context: Political Crisis in Lebanon 
Research Design 
Main Results on Support for Sectarian Politics 
Mechanism Results 
Additional Analysis: The Role of Cooperation 
Discussion of Results and External Validity 


It is widely believed that ethnic politics and conflict are less pronounced in countries with cross-cutting rather than reinforcing social cleavages. We argue that one possible explanation is that cross-cutting cleavages facilitate cross-cutting social interaction among individuals from different ethnic and/or class groups. This article examines whether such cross-cutting interaction, relative to homogeneous interaction, can reduce support for ethnic politics and increase support for a cross-ethnic, programmatic alternative. We conduct an experiment in Lebanon in which 720 lower- and upper-class Christians, Sunnis, and Shia were randomly assigned to participate in discussions that varied in their sectarian and class compositions. Our evidence suggests that cross-sectarian discussion resulted in less support for sectarian politics but only when individuals also belonged to the same economic class, driven by greater learning about shared preferences and reduced coethnic social pressure. We also demonstrate the limitations of other forms of cross-cutting discussion, showing that interaction among coethnics or non-coethnics from different classes did not weaken support for ethnic politics. These findings reveal when and how interaction that leverages a second dimension of interest or identity can help shift political preferences, shedding new light on the foundations of support for cross-ethnic politics in ethnically divided societies.