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What Democracy Means for African Voters

One way to evaluate potential democratic backsliding is to examine nationally representative public opinion data. We’ve done so for three west African countries that have yet to hold elections in 2023: Sierra Leone (June), Liberia (October) and Togo (December). Drawing on recently collected data from Afrobarometer, a non-partisan research network, researchers identified four themes prevalent in citizens’ attitudes about the democratic process. First, most citizens favour elections over alternative ways to select leaders. Second, they see their previous election as having been flawed. Third, citizens expect elections to feature violence. And fourth, they want candidates to focus on making the country better. For the democratic optimist, these public opinion surveys offer hope. In these countries, citizens are likely to base their voting decisions on their living conditions. They will consider whether their basic needs are being met, and will appraise ruling parties’ economic management. This reflects democratic mechanisms at work, rewarding or punishing incumbents for their performance.