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Key findings
  • Between 2012 and 2015, the proportion of Liberians who said their country is headed in the right direction dropped by half (from 51% to 26%), and fewer citizens saw their country's economic condition as “fairly” or “very” good (26%, down from 42%). Similar trends marked assessments of personal living conditions and optimism about improvements in the near future.
  • Only one in three Liberians (33%) “approved” or “strongly approved” of the president’s job performance over the previous year – half the proportion who voiced approval in 2012. Assessments of members of Parliament and local government councillors showed similar declines.
  • Popular trust in the president dropped by half, from 60% to 30% who said they trusted her “somewhat” or “a lot.” Meanwhile, perceptions of corruption doubled, from 31% in 2008 to 64% in 2015 who said that “most” or “all” officials in the office of the presidency are corrupt.
  • Public approval of the government’s performance on managing the economy, improving living standards of the poor, and other key policy and service-delivery issues declined between 2008 and 2015.
  • Unemployment, infrastructure, management of the economy, education, and agriculture are the most important problems that Liberians said they want their government to address. Among sectors needing additional government investment, respondents prioritized education and infrastructure.

Later this year, after 12 years in office, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will step down as president of Liberia and Africa’s first female head of state, having completed her maximum of two terms. Sirleaf, who came to power after decades of underdevelopment, tyranny, and civil conflict in Liberia, will leave a legacy that has won international acclaim – including the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize – for progress in rebuilding infrastructure, strengthening health care and education, helping to bring warlord Charles Taylor to justice, and seeing the country through the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic (Lane, 2016). In an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine, Sirleaf noted that her greatest achievement will be handing over power peacefully (McCormick, 2016).

Despite favourable international recognition for Sirleaf, public-opinion data show that Liberians’ assessments of the country’s economic condition and of Sirleaf’s performance and trustworthiness became sharply more negative between 2012 and 2015. Unemployment, infrastructure, economic management, education, and agriculture top the list of problems that citizens said they want the government to address.

As the country approaches general elections in October, no clear favorite to succeed Sirleaf has yet emerged from a large field of candidates and parties (Dahir, 2017; AFP, 2017). But widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo, coupled with an analysis of citizens’ priorities, may provide some insight into what Liberians will be looking for in a post-Sirleaf government.

Thomas Isbell

Post-doctoral research fellow and research assistant at Afrobarometer

David Jacobs

David Jacobs is a former officer in the South African Navy and assistant director in the Western Cape Provincial Government in South Africa.