Rachel Beatty Riedl, Ph.D.


Northwestern University

Address: 208 Scott Hall, 601 University Place

City: Evanston, Illinois - 60208

Country: United States

About Me:

Rachel Beatty Riedl is associate professor of political science at Northwestern University, where she is a faculty associate at the Institute for Policy Research, the director of the French Interdisciplinary Group, and serves on the Executive Committee of the Program of African Studies.  The author of the award-winning Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2014), she studies institutional development in new democracies, local governance and decentralization policy, authoritarian regime legacies, and religion and politics, with a regional focus in Sub-Saharan Africa.  She has published in the Journal of Politics, Comparative Political Studies, Studies in Comparative International Development, African Affairs, among others. Riedl is the Chair of the Comparative Democratization section of the American Political Science Association. A former Kellogg Institute visiting fellow, Yale Program on Democracy Fellow, and Faculty Fulbright Scholar, she holds a PhD from Princeton University.  She has conducted research in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia.  Riedl is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has conducted policy analysis for USAID, the World Bank, the State Department and the Carter Center on issues pertaining to governance, elections, democratic representation and identity politics.

Research Interests

African Politics

Comparative Democratization

Comparative Political Institutions

Non-Democratic Regimes

Political Parties and Interest Groups

Race, Ethnicity and Politics

Religion & Politics

Democratization And Authoritarianism

Religion & Politics

Urban Governance

Political Decentralization

Political Institutions

Comparative Party Systems

Countries of Interest






My Research:

I am a scholar of democratic institutions in the developing world.  Specifically, my research examines variation in party systems across new democracies and their implications for democratic competition, representation, and governance.  My theoretical and empirical work highlights how the historically-specific process of party system formation conditions the way that parties function in the contemporary period. Across my research, I ask how struggles over power and attempts to consolidate and institutionalize rule have long term, and often unintended, consequences for later patterns of competition and representation.  My research to date demonstrates, first, how political party systems in Africa’s nascent democracies have developed varying degrees of institutionalization according to the significant legacies of authoritarian era modes of power accumulation.  Second, my research illuminates how the contemporary political party landscape has the potential to shape and articulate particular social cleavages, to channel specific forms of religious organizations’ political mobilization and representation, and to strategically inform the degree and form of local level governance through varied decentralization reforms.   Through these projects, I seek to contribute to the discipline theoretically by charting how informal institutions of previous regime periods shape both the transition processes themselves as well as the possible formal institutional arrangements in the newly forming regime.  Methodologically, I have relied upon a combination of multiple tools to inform my research (including a comparative-historical approach, quantitative analysis and lab experiments) and I have analyzed the significant utility and contribution of employing sub-national cross-national comparison to further empirical and theoretical conclusions. In both my published book and my current book manuscript, I have used this methodological approach to locate the source of empirical variations and to test the interactive effect between national level factors (such as the competitiveness and institutionalization of the party system or colonial/authoritarian regime legacies) with subnational factors (such as structural resource bases, demographic distributions, and forms of social organization).  Empirically I have sought to map out the political landscape in domains that are relatively understudied in comparative politics: formal institutions of democratic competition and governance in Africa, and religious organizations’ political engagement.  My work is regionally concentrated in Africa in order to both leverage cross-national and across time variation in a diverse region as well as to control for broad structural and historical legacies. My research also creates new empirical knowledge of African politics and tests the applicability and scope conditions of existing arguments in the discipline.  Theoretically, methodologically and empirically, I endeavor to bring the comparative study of Africa into greater dialogue with studies of political parties, democratization, and historical institutionalism more broadly.


Journal Articles:

(2015) Religion as Stimulant of Political Participation: Evidence from an Experiment in Nairobi, Kenya, Journal of Politics

In this article we explore how certain religious messages may spur or constrain political participation. Specifically, we test whether religious messages that provide individuals a positive self-image can act as stimulants, giving people a sense of internal efficacy to participate in politics. We explore this hypothesis through a novel experimental design in Nairobi, Kenya. We find that exposure to self-affirmation messages typical of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches motivated participation in a political text message campaign. We discuss implications of these findings for politics in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as for the study of religion and politics more generally.

(2014) Party Systems and Decentralization in Africa, Studies in Comparative International Development

What explains when and to what extent central governments implement decentralization? By centering on the strategic incentives that follow from the particular configuration of competitiveness and party system coherence, we propose a theory that can begin to explain the divergent outcomes in the many forms of decentralization initiated across Africa. This explanation for the extent to which robust decentralization is implemented over time suggests two counter-intuitive findings. First, authoritarian regimes may decentralize further than democratic ones, given the incentives to the hegemonic party where such reforms are initiated. Second, highly fragmented and deeply localized polities may decentralize most minimally, even where there is a broad consensus about the desirability of such reforms. We provide a first test of the theory through a comparative analysis of over a dozen countries, focusing on process tracing for Ethiopia, Botswana, Ghana, and Benin.

Books Written:

(2014) Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa, Cambridge University Press

Why have seemingly similar African countries developed very different forms of democratic party systems? Despite virtually ubiquitous conditions that are assumed to be challenging to democracy - low levels of economic development, high ethnic heterogeneity, and weak state capacity - nearly two dozen African countries have maintained democratic competition since the early 1990s. Yet the forms of party system competition vary greatly: from highly stable, nationally organized, well-institutionalized party systems to incredibly volatile, particularistic parties in systems with low institutionalization. To explain their divergent development, Rachel Beatty Riedl points to earlier authoritarian strategies to consolidate support and maintain power. The initial stages of democratic opening provides an opportunity for authoritarian incumbents to attempt to shape the rules of the new multiparty system in their own interests, but their power to do so depends on the extent of local support built up over time. The particular form of the party system that emerges from the democratic transition is sustained over time through isomorphic competitive pressures embodied in the new rules of the game, the forms of party organization and the competitive strategies that shape party and voter behavior alike.