Africans Want High-Quality Elections - Especially If They Bring Change (Afrobarometer)

press release

Accra — Most Africans support democratic elections as the best way to choose their leaders - if they see their previous elections as free and fair, and especially if those elections produced a change in leadership, new Afrobarometer survey data show.

In the seventh of its Pan-Africa Profiles series based on recent public-opinion surveys in 34 African countries, Afrobarometer reports that popular support for elections is driven by the perceived freedom and fairness of the balloting process. And the strongest evidence of a free and fair election is a change in ruling party.

"Simply stated, Africans support elections to the extent that these contests are seen to bring about desired political change," the analysis concludes.

The new report, available at, indicates that while popular support for elections and assessments of election quality vary widely across countries and over time, a majority of Africans - both opposition-party and ruling-party supporters - have consistently seen their elections as generally free and fair.

Key findings:

  • On average, three-quarters (75%) of the Africans interviewed in 2016/2018 say they prefer to use regular, open, and honest elections to choose their country's leaders. But popular support for elections was somewhat higher in the recent past, reaching 83% across 35 countries surveyed in 2011/2013.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of all Africans interviewed see the last national election in their country as having been free and fair (either "completely" or "with minor problems"). About one in four say it had "major problems" (13%) or was "not free and fair" (15%). Popular assessments of election quality have remained almost unchanged since 2005.
  • Citizens who think their most recent elections were free and fair are more likely to support elections as the best way to choose their leaders.
  • Surprisingly, opposition-party supporters are almost as likely as ruling-party supporters to see their elections as free and fair. Non-partisans are far less likely to perceive electoral integrity.
  • Popular support for elections is higher in countries with two-round presidential electoral systems than in systems in which leaders are chosen indirectly by parliamentary majorities or that allow winners to take office with less than 50% of the votes.
  • Importantly, the perceived quality of elections is closely linked to electoral changes in ruling party. Whereas 71% of Africans infer free and fair conduct in the wake of an electoral alternation, just 56% see the same for elections that confirm the incumbent party in power.
  • Africans support "change elections." Support for elections is a function of both leadership alternation and perceived election quality. Alternation is embedded in popular perceptions of electoral quality as the strongest evidence for what constitutes a high-quality election.

Survey background

Afrobarometer, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Ghana, is a pan-African, nonpartisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in African countries. Six rounds of surveys were conducted between 1999 and 2015, and Round 7 survey findings in 34 countries are being released in 2018/2019.

Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent's choice with nationally representative samples. Sample sizes of 1,200-2,400 yield country-level results with a margin of sampling error of +/-2 to 3 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.

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