Do collective experiences that prime sentiments of national unity reduce interethnic tensions and conflict? We examine this question by looking at the impact of national football teams’ victories in sub-Saharan Africa.
Combining individual survey data with information on official matches played between 2000 and 2015, we find that individuals interviewed in the days after a victory of their country’s national team are less likely to report a strong sense of ethnic identity and more likely to trust people of other ethnicities than those interviewed just before. The effect is sizeable and robust and is not explained by generic euphoria or optimism.
Crucially, national victories do not only affect attitudes but also reduce violence. Indeed, using plausibly exogenous variation from close qualifications to the Africa Cup of Nations, we find that countries that (barely) qualified experience significantly less conflict in the following six months than countries that (barely) did not.
Our findings indicate that, even where ethnic cleavages have deep historical roots, patriotic shocks can reduce interethnic tensions and have a tangible impact on conflict.