Candidate Selection and Political Accountability in African Legislative Elections

Incumbent presidents and parties are widely understood to have low turnover rates and enjoy an electoral advantage in sub-Saharan Africa, yet legislative turnover at the individual level is extremely high in comparison to African presidents, African ruling parties, and legislators in OECD democracies. How do internal partisan nomination processes affect electoral outcomes and selection into politics in young democracies?

My dissertation examines how candidate selection affects electoral outcomes and selection into politics using new and original data from sub-Saharan African elections. In my first paper, I establish the stakes — why does candidate selection matter? Using new cross-national data matching candidate names across twelve countries and over fifty elections, I disaggregate African legislative turnover into two types: pre-electoral and electoral. I find that (1) the majority of turnover occurs during the pre-electoral stage of competition, (2) ruling party incumbents are less likely to be re-nominated than those in opposition, and (3) the vast majority of pre-electoral turnover is due to de-selection at the intra-party stage of competition. Further, these findings hold across a wide range of political contexts. Normatively, these findings suggest that African legislators may be primarily accountable to their selectors. In my second paper I delve into one of the major debates facing political parties — how parties select their candidates. Across Africa an increasing number of political parties have introduced elite or mass primaries, democratizing the process of selecting candidates within the party. This paper assesses how the introduction of primaries in which all party members can vote affects the types of candidates nominated, electoral outcomes and selection into politics using original data from fieldwork with Botswana’s ruling party. In the final paper, I interrogate the dynamics of candidate selection in a highly centralized system in which a narrow party elite holds final decision-making authority over nominations. Using original data from fieldwork in Zambia, I examine how the imposition of legislative candidates over local elite preferences affects electoral outcomes in the case of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy, Zambia’s former ruling party (1991-2011).


An Uphill Battle: Candidate Selection and Political Accountability in Africa

Incumbent presidents and parties are widely known to have an electoral advantage in sub-Saharan Africa, but incumbent legislators by contrast exhibit very high levels of electoral turnover. Are voters expressing dissatisfaction with these representatives, or does high turnover have elite, intra-party origins? Using an original cross-national dataset from 53 election cycles across 13 countries, this paper shows that the majority of legislative incumbent turnover occurs before the general election takes place. Evidence from five countries further confirms that pre-electoral turnover is nearly entirely due to parties’ barring candidates from running, not voluntary exit. These findings demonstrate that the locus of political competition in most African legislative elections is at the intra-party stage of competition and raise new questions about the strategic rationale behind these patterns and the nature of political accountability on the continent.


Democratizing Candidate Selection: Evidence from Botswana’s Bulela Ditswe Primaries

Why do political parties implement primary elections? With multi-party elections firmly established, political parties in many young democracies have begun to democratize internally by adopting mass primaries. Previous work argues that parties institute primaries to select for high quality candidates, incentivize campaigning effort, and reduce intra-party conflict. In this paper I theorize that parties also implement mass primaries to open up the political elite while protecting their most senior members. Consistent with this hypothesis, using original data from Botswana’s ruling party I find that primaries: (1) decrease the likelihood of re-nomination of long term incumbents in favor of political newcomers, (2) do not negatively impact the ability of the most senior-level elites to retain their positions, and (3) provide only limited new information to aid in general election campaigns. Combined with qualitative and historical evidence, these results suggest that political parties may implement mass primaries to replace unpopular and entrenched leaders at minimal electoral and political cost.


“Ignoring Them Will Cost You: Electoral Performance and Imposed Candidates”

Most African political parties involve constituency level party elites in candidate selection. Yet national level party elites retain the possibility of intervening in the selection process in favor of their preferred candidates. This intervention – particularly the imposition of candidates – may come with an electoral cost. Constituency elites may exert less effort in campaigning for non-preferred candidates, and voters may not support locally unpopular politicians. In the context of increasingly competitive legislative and presidential elections, senior party elites have powerful incentives to defer to constituency elite preferences who undertake grassroots campaigning and best understand the local electorate. So why do they so often impose candidates? In this paper I examine whether over-riding constituency elite candidate selection preferences affects electoral outcomes, and why a party might choose to impose candidates in the context of Zambia. Using data from the former ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), I find that imposed candidates perform less well in the competitive constituencies where electoral performance matters most. I theorize that placating party financiers, weakening other parties through defections, and prioritization of demonstrated electoral success over party loyalty explain candidate imposition.