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We study whether and why traditional leaders can influence voter behaviour using real endorsement messages made by chiefs in support of the incumbent presidential candidate during Ghana’s 2020 presidential elections. Using an experimental design, we document a positive impact of endorsement messages on vote choice, but not on turnout. We find that the effect of chiefs’ endorsements is driven by their influence on unaligned and opposition voters. We also find evidence that voters’ prior beliefs about the traditional leader’s performance in their duties shape chiefly influence.
Our analysis of causal mechanisms indicates the effect of chiefly endorsement among unaligned and opposition voters runs primarily through lending credibility to the candidate’s promise to build local public infrastructure, rather than their national policies. Our results imply that traditional elites can shape political outcomes, which has important implications for democratic accountability.