ABSTRACT

What makes opposition parties will elections in sub-Saharan Africa? The literature on voters in Africa tells us that ballots are won over by clientelism rather than economic development, thus undermining the quality of collective goods provision and democratic accountability. We challenge this notion drawing insight from the December 2008 Ghanaian elections in which the National Democratic Congress came back to power after eight years as an opposition party. Using two surveys carried out before and after the elections, we analyse voters' retrospective sanctioning and prospective selection of incumbent and opposition candidates for legislative office. Our findings show that vote-buying and purely clientelistic appeals are insufficient to win elections and that Ghanaian voters value development when choosing political leaders and hold influential retrospective evaluations of performance. The evidence suggests that clientelism as an electoral strategy may be ubiquitous in emerging democracies, but as voters gain greater experience in choosing political leaders and longer-term information about retrospective performance, its utility may diminish over time.