WP115: Support you can count on? Ethnicity, partisanship, and retrospective voting in Africa

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Working papers
Young, Daniel

In this paper we investigate voting behavior in Africa to ask what base of support presidents can count on. The most prevalent notion about electoral politics in Africa is that voters simply vote for co-ethnics. We find that assumption to be faulty. While voters tend to support a co-ethnic president, their support is not inevitable, and non co-ethnics can be swayed in a president’s favor in essentially the same fashion as co-ethnics. We show that, despite political parties lack of differentiable policy programs, party identification is what gives presidents their strongest support base. However, there are also substantial numbers of “swing” voters that judge the president based on merit. This encouraging result suggests higher than expected levels of voter sophistication and electoral competitiveness in Africa.