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Working paper

WP55: Free and fair or fraudulent and forged: Elections and legitimacy in Africa

Devra C. Moehler 1 Dec 2005 Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
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Elections are thought to bolster legitimacy by providing fair mechanisms for selecting leaders. In Africa, where competitive elections are often unfamiliar and imperfect, losers express much less support for their political institutions than do winners. Analysis of Round 1 Afrobarometer survey data from more than 20,000 respondents in 12 countries demonstrates that losers are less inclined than winners to trust their political institutions, consent to government authority, and feel that voting matters. Contrary to initial expectations, however, losers are more eager than winners to defend their institutions against manipulation by elected officials. Furthermore, divergent evaluations of electoral fairness are responsible for only a small portion of the winner-loser gap in legitimacy. Many more losers than winners said their elections were unfair, but losers must have additional reasons for doubting the legitimacy of their political institutions.

This paper appears in Michael Bratton (ed) Voting and Democratic Citizenship in Africa (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, April 2013). More information can be found here. Users in Africa may request a free electronic copy of this paper from Brian Howard, Afrobarometer Publications Manager, at

Devra Moehler

Devra C. Moehler is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University and an Academy Scholar (2005-2007) at Harvard Academ