While past studies have put forward many reasons why partisanship in young African democracies should be considered weak and meaningless, this paper casts doubt on this notion by presenting evidence of strong and stable patterns of partisanship among ordinary citizens. Based on survey data from Ghana, I exploit the variation introduced by the political turnovers of 2008 and 2016 to compare perceptions and attitudes of party supporters when their preferred party is in power and when it is not. The results indicate a pronounced partisan divide, suggesting that partisanship is meaningful and prompts motivated reasoning among citizens. On the one hand this can be seen as evidence for a stable party landscape and thus a more mature democracy, but on the other hand partisan polarization may also obstruct effective governance. Furthermore, the analysis of attitudes toward democratic principles uncovers a worrying double standard that could negatively affect the consolidation of democracy. A simple heterogeneity analysis reveals that while partisan identities seem to exist alongside ethnic identities, the latter still strongly determine the strength of party attachment in Ghana. Future research on political behaviour needs to acknowledge the presence of these partisan motives and continue to investigate the impact of partisanship on the further development of democratic institutions in African democracies.
Photo: Masjaliza Hamzah CC BY-NC 2.0
Two voters celebrate following Ghana’s 2016 elections - Commonwealth Secretariat