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Identity, poverty, and electoral accountability in Africa’s democracies. a comparative study
Identity, poverty, and electoral accountability in Africa’s democracies. a comparative study
Do voters in Africa’s new democracies hold leaders accountable for the results of their past actions? Are heads of state punished or rewarded in a fashion that credibly signals that stealing, poor policy choices, and bad leadership are not tolerated? Experts remain sceptical. While it is increasingly acknowledged that some African voters consider issues such as the national economy or the management of schools and roads, many scholars doubt that electoral reactions are strong enough to replace bad leaders and effectively incentivise good governance. This book presents the most comprehensive investigation of the matter so far. Based on a sanctioning model of electoral accountability, the study revolves around two critical conditions for effective accountability. Voters should (1) form unbiased performance perceptions and (2) act upon their judgements by re-electing successful leaders and voting against bad performers. The book combines two in-depth case studies of Ghana and Uganda and a comparison across 16 countries, drawing on altogether 59 nationally representative surveys. The case studies trace performance perceptions and voting intentions of relevant ethnic and partisan groups over a period of more than ten years, on and off campaign times. The comparative perspective verifies the generalizability of findings and sheds light on the distribution of accountability pressures across Africa. Important empirical and theoretical contributions accrue from the new perspectives. First, the country study of Ghana provides new persuasive evidence of effective accountability in Africa by demonstrating that all relevant ethnic and partisan constituencies contribute to the sanctioning signal, which creates strong incentives for leaders to pursue programmatic strategies to maximise the impact and the reach of developmental policies. Secondly, the work underlines the growing relevance of partisan identities in the region’s young systems. Partisanship is found to have a substantially stronger influence than ethnicity on performance perceptions and often overrides ethnic leanings. In some countries, most notably Ghana and Malawi, the study documents high levels of partisan polarization that cut across ethnic divisions. The observed patterns strongly indicate partisan-motivated reasoning and the emergence of affective partisan identities. By contrast, biases for coethnics are surprisingly rare across the 59 surveys. Only in three of 16 countries (Ghana, South Africa, and Malawi), ethnic identities have a robust and temporally stable influence on popular performance perceptions. Thirdly, the study highlights daily experiences of poverty as an often-overlooked source of information. I present robust evidence that people confronted with shortages in basic necessities tend to evaluate office holders critically, even if these are copartisans or coethnics. The finding indicates that personal exposure to poverty directly informs perceptions of government performance. Accordingly, poor people should not be underestimated as a critical force on election day; their judgements seem less prone to identity biases than those of citizens in relative economic security. Other informational indicators, including news consumption and political interest, show no bias-reducing effect. Last but not least, the comparative perspective illuminates the distribution of biases and the variation in the magnitude of performance voting across Africa. The results highlight that some conflicting findings in the literature are attributable to systematic cross-country differences. Performance voting is strongest in states with keenly contested elections. Interestingly, minor democratic deficits and low development show no adverse effect on electoral accountability within the 16-country sample.
Voting Behavior, Electoral Accountability, Performance, Retrospective Voting, Partisanship, Ethnicity, Poverty, Africa
Primus, Simon
2021
English
Universitätsbibliothek der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Primus, Simon (2021): Identity, poverty, and electoral accountability in Africa’s democracies: a comparative study. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Social Sciences
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Abstract

Do voters in Africa’s new democracies hold leaders accountable for the results of their past actions? Are heads of state punished or rewarded in a fashion that credibly signals that stealing, poor policy choices, and bad leadership are not tolerated? Experts remain sceptical. While it is increasingly acknowledged that some African voters consider issues such as the national economy or the management of schools and roads, many scholars doubt that electoral reactions are strong enough to replace bad leaders and effectively incentivise good governance. This book presents the most comprehensive investigation of the matter so far. Based on a sanctioning model of electoral accountability, the study revolves around two critical conditions for effective accountability. Voters should (1) form unbiased performance perceptions and (2) act upon their judgements by re-electing successful leaders and voting against bad performers. The book combines two in-depth case studies of Ghana and Uganda and a comparison across 16 countries, drawing on altogether 59 nationally representative surveys. The case studies trace performance perceptions and voting intentions of relevant ethnic and partisan groups over a period of more than ten years, on and off campaign times. The comparative perspective verifies the generalizability of findings and sheds light on the distribution of accountability pressures across Africa. Important empirical and theoretical contributions accrue from the new perspectives. First, the country study of Ghana provides new persuasive evidence of effective accountability in Africa by demonstrating that all relevant ethnic and partisan constituencies contribute to the sanctioning signal, which creates strong incentives for leaders to pursue programmatic strategies to maximise the impact and the reach of developmental policies. Secondly, the work underlines the growing relevance of partisan identities in the region’s young systems. Partisanship is found to have a substantially stronger influence than ethnicity on performance perceptions and often overrides ethnic leanings. In some countries, most notably Ghana and Malawi, the study documents high levels of partisan polarization that cut across ethnic divisions. The observed patterns strongly indicate partisan-motivated reasoning and the emergence of affective partisan identities. By contrast, biases for coethnics are surprisingly rare across the 59 surveys. Only in three of 16 countries (Ghana, South Africa, and Malawi), ethnic identities have a robust and temporally stable influence on popular performance perceptions. Thirdly, the study highlights daily experiences of poverty as an often-overlooked source of information. I present robust evidence that people confronted with shortages in basic necessities tend to evaluate office holders critically, even if these are copartisans or coethnics. The finding indicates that personal exposure to poverty directly informs perceptions of government performance. Accordingly, poor people should not be underestimated as a critical force on election day; their judgements seem less prone to identity biases than those of citizens in relative economic security. Other informational indicators, including news consumption and political interest, show no bias-reducing effect. Last but not least, the comparative perspective illuminates the distribution of biases and the variation in the magnitude of performance voting across Africa. The results highlight that some conflicting findings in the literature are attributable to systematic cross-country differences. Performance voting is strongest in states with keenly contested elections. Interestingly, minor democratic deficits and low development show no adverse effect on electoral accountability within the 16-country sample.