How important are abstainers in presidential elections? A comparative analysis between Africa and Latin America

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December 2020
Paper author(s): 
Christian Henning
Daniel Diaz
Andrea Lendewig
Svetlana Petri
Politics and Economy

Even in countries with well functioning democracies, not all people with the right to vote in a presidential election decide to cast a vote. In order to study the importance of abstention in presidential elections in Africa and Latin America, data from Senegal and Honduras was analyzed. These countries have experienced a decline in the voter turnout over the past elections, which means that the party systems are somehow failing to engage voters in recent years. The purpose of this paper is to understand how people choose a certain party or candidate, as well as, how they decide to either vote or abstain. Moreover, we are looking to determine whether non-voters could motivate the governments to design and implement efficient policies. To achieve this, we estimated nested multinomial logit models including the alternative Abstention. Then, to evaluate government performance, we derived indicators for accountability and capture. Also, to determine the optimal policy positions for the governmental parties, First Order Condition (FOC) and Second Order Condition (SOC) were estimated for different issues. We concluded that, in these two developing countries, one of the factors that voters take into account when they decide to either vote or abstain, is their level of satisfaction with the performance of the president. Additionally, the incumbent is held more accountable when all non-government supporters are considered. Furthermore, since in both countries, the incumbents’ voters are being captured by all other groups within the electorate, we could argue that abstainers, as well as, those who have chosen an opposition party/candidate can motivate the incumbent to choose the policies that better match the specific country needs in order to reduce poverty and undernutrition and promote economic growth. Finally, we found that the ruling parties BBY and PNH could increase their probabilities of being re-elected, if they choose policies that are more left oriented.


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