What Drives African Voters?

Research could help with promoting democracy.

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In Kenya, with “supposedly one of the most ethnicized political environments in Africa,’’ the researchers found that some citizens did vote ethnically, Gibson said. However, a far larger proportion took into consideration how their government performed when voting, he added.

“About 10 to 20 percent will always vote their ethnic party, no matter what, ’’ Gibson said.  “But there also are individuals who will vote against their ethnic candidate when they think he or she performs poorly in office.  Most vote using a combination of both factors, not unlike citizens in more developed democracies who use their party label, as well as how their candidates performed in office.’’

In Ghana, which is regarded as a less ethnically driven country, the scientists not surprisingly found less ethnically influenced voting, he said.  “More of the voting there was driven by performance,’’ Gibson said.

In both countries, voters “care about their household economy greatly, they worry about security, and they worry about the national economy,’’ he said. “They’re very much like voters anywhere.   Ethnicity is only one source that informs their vote. They are aware of what candidates do in office, they are aware of what parties promise and succeed or fail to deliver, and they take note of the  particular candidate characteristics, as citizens do everywhere.’’

Americans, unfortunately, “have a very simplistic notion of what drives voters in Africa,’’ he added.  “This is not good for constructive democracy assistance, or other parts of our foreign policy. Even in an ethnically polarized country like Kenya, we find that voters consider policy, a candidate’s characteristics and their—the voter’s—own economic position, as well as ethnicity. Ethnicity does not dominate voters’ choices in Kenya or Ghana, or likely anywhere.’’

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