Are African Voters Really Ethnic or Clientelistic? Survey Evidence from Ghana
Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 123, Spring 2008
Posted: 12 Sep 2007 Last revised: 9 Jan 2014
This article explores voting behavior in one of Africa's new democracies. Recognizing that much of the literature assumes African political behavior to be subsumed in ethnic ties and clientelism, we ask if individual voting behavior in Africa is driven by evaluative rationales based on retrospective or prospective judgments of the performance of parties or representatives, or by non-evaluative rationales characterized by clientelism and proxy voting. Based on a survey of voters in two recent elections in Ghana, one of the most surprising findings is that an overwhelming majority of the respondents do not vote based on clientelism, or due to ethnic or family ties but cast their ballots after evaluation of candidates and parties. Despite the significance of ethnicity among elites in Africa, voters are seemingly not influenced primarily by it. This leads us to hypothesize that citizens in "transitional democracies" often reason and behave as relatively "mature" democratic voters by consciously appraising the past performance of the promised policy programs of candidates and parties. We also found in the Ghanaian case that as expected clientelism is more likely where political competition is high. This seems to suggest a dilemma in newly democratizing poor countries: while high-level competition is generally thought to be a desirable characteristic of a democratic regime, competition may also work to raise the frequency of political corruption.
Keywords: Africa, elections, voters, ethnicity, clientelism, ballot, parties, democratization, Ghana
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