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Comparative Political Studies

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Chiefdoms -- Malawi, Sex role -- Malawi, Child marriage, Malawi -- Politics and government -- Effect of gender on


Traditional leadership often coexists with modern political institutions, yet we know little about how traditional and state authority cues—or those from male or female sources—affect public opinion. Using an original survey experiment of 1,381 Malawians embedded in the 2016 Local Governance Performance Index (LGPI), we randomly assign respondents into one of four treatment groups or a control group to hear messages about a child marriage reform from a female or male traditional authority (TA) or parliamentarian. In the sample as a whole, the female TA is as effective as the control (i.e., no endorsement), while other messengers elicit lower support (i.e., backfire effects). Endorsements produce heterogeneous effects across respondent sex and patrilineal/matrilineal customs, suggesting the need for tailored programs. Our analysis adds an intersectional approach to the governance literature, suggesting a theoretical framework that enables us to explain the impact of state and traditional endorsements across policy domains.


This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that was subsequently published in Comparative Political Studies, 52(12), 1881–1924. The version of record may be accessed at

© The Authors. Published by SAGE Publications.



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