Voting behavior

Authored by: James D. Long

Routledge Handbook of Democratization in Africa

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  July  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138081246
eBook ISBN: 9781315112978
Adobe ISBN:


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Since Africa’s “third wave” transition to electoral democracy, what motivates citizens’ voting behavior? This chapter reviews the multidisciplinary literature on the drivers of voter mobilization and ballot selection. Given the salience of ethnic identity in Africa during election periods, many scholars note that candidates rely on ethnic appeals to garner support and voters coordinate to support co-ethnic leaders to further narrow group interests. Elections accordingly generate a “tyranny of numbers,” where vote outcomes mirror demographic patterns and reinforce ethnic divisions. However, other scholarship notes that election results frequently do not reflect ethnic patterns since politicians cannot always rely solely on co-ethnic support to win office. Voters also frequently express considerations of retrospective government performance and prospective policy adoption in their electoral decisions. This chapter examines the motivations and salience of ethnic, performance, and policy factors to explain electoral choices in Africa. It first outlines each approach’s theoretical logic and empirical implications, and then reviews data sources and methods employed to test hypotheses. The chapter concludes with a discussion of important open questions that arise from prior work and the agenda they set for future research on African voting behavior.

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