Explaining the African Vote
22 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 4 Sep 2009
Date Written: 2009
In a shocking victory in Ghana’s 2008 presidential election, the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) prevailed over the incumbent New Patriotic Party (NPP) by one-half of one percentage point, after trailing far behind the NPP according to most opinion polls. What were the attributes of voters for each party? Standard theories about elections in Africa suggest that they are little more than ethnic headcounts and that parties typically are a thin cover for ethnicity. Data from a survey we conducted shortly before the 2008 seriously challenges this view. The NDC and the NPP drew support from a range of ethnic groups and there was little evidence of ethnic block voting. Moreover, while supporters of each party do not fit a clear ethnic profile, they possess strong beliefs about the parties. In addition, in the final weeks of the election, a sizable proportion of the electorate remained undecided and was amenable to voting for either party. For these reasons we contend that the perceptions of the NDC and the NPP shaped the outcome of Ghana’s 2008 election far more than the ethnic identity of its candidates.
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