Voting Behavior when Votes are Potentially Traceable

Both ethnic diversity and migration have been widely associated with lower levels of social trust. We leverage features of Singapore’s unique demographic makeup to provide insights on the issue. Singapore has a multiethnic population comprised of three main ethnic groups, namely Chinese (75%), Malay (15%), and Indian (10%). Roughly 1/3rd of Singaporean residents, however, are new migrants. Many are ostensibly co-ethnics of Singaporeans, but do not share the same civic Singaporean identity. This allows us to make precise inferences on which dimensions of difference are responsible for enhancing or decreasing levels of social trust.
We embedded a survey experiment into a general household survey, which we administered in-person to a representative sample of Singaporean households (N=2,000). Respondents were given a scenario in which they were asked to imagine they lost their wallet, which was found by a person that we described in detail. Respondents were then asked to assess how likely it was that the wallet would be returned by that finder. The descriptions of the finder are all identical, except that we randomize their ethnicity, their birthplace (Singapore, Malaysia, and China), and their socio-economic status (low SES or high SES). We find that civic identity generally trumps ethnic identity: Singaporean respondents on average trust fellow Singaporeans (including when they are non-coethnics) more than they trust migrants (including when they are coethnics that share ethnocultural attributes like language and religion). We further analyze the role of socio-economic status: results suggest that high SES increases trust for members of an out-group (other ethnicity or nationality), but reduces it for members of the in-group (same ethnicity and nationality). Other correlates of social trust are discussed. These findings strongly suggest that shared civic norms can substantially mitigate the divisive potential of ethnic difference. This has numerous policy implications for states contending with rapid migration.

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