WP137: Perceptions versus reality: Assessing popular evaluations of election quality in Africa

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Working papers
Kerr, Nicholas

In this paper, I assess the determinants and validity of citizens’ perceptions of election quality. First, I suggest that citizens’ evaluation of the performance of election-related institutions is the most crucial determinant of their election quality perceptions; however, citizens’ personal experience with electoral irregularities, and affiliation with electoral winners also matter. Second, I argue that citizens’ election quality perceptions are generally indicative of prevailing trends within different stages of the election process. I expect citizens’ perceptions to be correlated with other non-perception-based indicators of election quality. I test these hypotheses in the context of the 2007 Nigerian elections, using survey data from the Afrobarometer and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems along with original data coded from petitions filed in Nigerian Election Tribunals. The findings provide robust support for the hypotheses and underscore the importance of gauging citizens’ perceptions of electoral quality. Most important, the results indicate that Nigerians were critical of the quality of the 2007 elections and demand electoral institutions with impartiality and professionalism.