Ethnic polarization, ethnic salience, and civil war

Ravi Bhavnani*, Dan Miodownik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


This article examines how the relationship between ethnic polarization and civil war could be moderated by different degrees of ethnic salience. Using an agent-based computational model, we analyze the polarization-conflict relationship when ethnic salience is ''fixed''-high for every member of two nominally rival ethnic groups-and ''variable''-permitted to vary across individuals as a function of relative income. We find that (1) when salience is fixed, conflict onset is twice as high at low levels of polarization compared to when salience is permitted to vary, with the difference decreasing at high levels of polarization; (2) the relationship between conflict onset and the range over which we calculate variable salience is positive and robust for low and moderate levels of polarization; (3) the relationship between polarization and conflict onset is robust even under minority domination, if one holds salience fixed; and (4) holding ethnic salience fixed effectively amplifies the negative effect of polarization on economic performance.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)30-49
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Agent-based model
  • Civil war
  • Ethnicity
  • Polarization
  • Salience


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