Difference in turnout between the first election and the most recent election: post-communist countries.
With the attention of scholars already drawn to the decline in voter turnout in new democracies after the first wave of open/competitive elections, by relying on aggregate data studies have provided explanations for cross-national variations in turnout. Yet, the reliance on aggregate data makes it hard to establish what had lead individuals to abstain from the political process. Thus, in this chapter, by using individual-level analysis from the European Social Survey and the Afrobarometer we re-interrogate the determinants of non-voting in two new democracies of post-Communist Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. Having tested the various explanations for non-voting, first, our results show some consistency across the two regions, suggesting non-voters are those who lack any form of psychological engagement with politics, who are isolated from the recruitment networks and live in urban areas. Second, our result tends to be contradictory, in which while in post-Communist Europe non-voters are men and those with lower level of education in sub-Saharan Africa they are women and those with higher level of education. Third, pertaining to country level indicators, apart from the fact non-voters in both regions are those who have no trust in elections and who lived in countries with disproportional electoral systems, the results tend to be varied.
- political participation
- new democracies
- post-communist Europe
- sub-Saharan Africa
- European social survey
- Afrobarometer survey data
Although the first wave of open and competitive elections in a number of new democracies, most especially those in post-Communist Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, was marked by high rates of voter turnout, in recent decades, the attention of scholars has been drawn to the decline of voter turnout in both regions. Despite the difference between the two regions, which includes a history of communism, colonialism, and economic and social development, both regions are similar in that they experienced the transition to democracy almost at the same time (i.e. the early 1990s), but more importantly, they are comparable in terms of their current trajectory with respect to the decline in voter turnout. In fact, an observation of national elections in both regions (i.e. Central/Eastern European countries and sub-Saharan Africa) shows the percentage of people who abstain from voting has gradually risen.
For example, in post-communist European countries, from initial rates of 80%, average turnout rates have reduced to 50–66% in some of these countries [1, 2, 3]. With regards to sub-Saharan Africa, data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (i.e. International IDEA) suggest Africa’s average turnout was the lowest, at 64% compared to the world average (, p. 77). Moreover, even more pronounced are the country variations in turnout, with countries such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia experiencing a significant downward trend of more than 32% (, p. 26). On the other hand, sub-Saharan African countries such as Cape Verde, Nigeria, Mali, Sao Tome and Principe, Zambia, and Senegal have an all-time downward trend in voter turnout ranging from 35.5 to 57%.
Because of the presumed consequences of low turnout for democratic theory and practice1 and by relying on aggregate data, scholars in established democracies and to some extent those in emerging democracies have done a great deal to provide explanations for cross-national decline as well as regional variations in turnout. However, as cited by Karp and Milazzo , the dependence on aggregate data makes it extremely challenging to establish what has led individuals to abstain from the political process, which therefore makes the question of
1.1 Why studying non-voting matters
Although, we can argue that the issue of non-voting in new democracies does seem to have potentially important implication for democracy and its expansion, however, this does not seem to be clear at first sight. Thus, we find it important to begin by asking why studying the phenomenon of non-voting most especially in the context of emerging democracies in post-Communist Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa countries seem to matter. That said, a brief review of the literature reveals three crucial justification for studying non-voting:
First, as cited by Tambe  electoral politics or voting is generally considered or judged as an important corner-stone for representative democracy. Thus, the fact that certain groups or section of the population do not engage or participate poses a genuine problem to representative democracy as the fundamental principle of
1.2 An empirical mapping of voter turnout trends in new democracies: evidence from central and Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa
Voter turnout has been declining in most societies, particularly those in post-communist Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. In this section, we rely on five typologies, which center on:
Countries that have high voter turnout and turnout remains high.
Countries that have high turnout and turnout later declines.
Countries that have low voter turnout and turnout remains low.
Countries that have low voter turnout and turnout increases.
Countries that have a stable level of turnout over time.
This is done in order to ascertain if both regions are experiencing a decline in voter turnout. Moreover, by relying on these five typologies, first we focus only on elections where the most important figure of the executive is being elected (i.e. national elections).2 Second and most importantly we only considered countries across both regions, where multipartism is the norm and which have held at least four consecutive competitive elections. Tables 1 and 2 show the difference in turnout between the first elections (i.e. third wave of democratisation) and the most recent elections held in each country across the two regions.
|Countries||First election||Most recent election||Difference in turnout (%)||Number of elections conducted|
|Year||Turnout (%)||Year||Turnout (%)|
|Countries||First election||Most recent election||Difference in turnout (%)||Number of elections conducted|
|Year||Turnout (%)||Year||Turnout (%)|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||1991||60.0||2016||46.0||−14||6|
Looking at the data displayed in Tables 1 and 2 and drawing on our empirical mapping of voter turnout based on the five typologies permits us to make the following observations. First, beginning with countries that have high voter turnout after their founding elections and where turnout remains high, the following countries in sub-Saharan Africa (i.e. Burundi, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa) could be placed in this category. Surprisingly, no country in Central and Eastern Europe could be found in this category. Second, moving to countries that experience high turnout rates after the first competitive elections and later suffer a drop in turnout, most of the post-communist countries could be placed in this category. Third, looking at countries that experience a very low level of turnout rate and their turnout remains low, the result reveals very few countries across both regions could be placed in this category except for Poland, Senegal, Mali and Nigeria. Fourth, turning to countries that experience a very low turnout in their first democratic elections and later experience an increase, like the third typology, very few countries across the two regions could be placed under this category except for Ghana. In summary, what is observed is that not only have new democracies in Central/Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa experienced significant decline in voter turnout, but even more pronounced are the country variations across both regions, with some countries experiencing a significant downward trend in voter turnout, and more so than others.
2. Theory: determinants of non-voting
There is a huge array of factors that have been postulated to explain what influences people’s decision to participate in or refrain from politics (for an overview see: [6, 12, 13]; but see also [14, 15, 16]); to account for non-voting, the theoretical perspective that we adopt is derived from the classical work of Verba, Schlozman and Brady titled
2.1 Individual resources and non-voting
First, beginning with individual resources, we consider two salient resources that are said to be important for vote choice:
2.2 Motivation or voter political psychology and non-voting
Another key variable of Verba et al.’s  model for explaining why people do not participate in politics centres on motivation or a voter’s psychological disposition, which is measured by political efficacy, political interest, political trust and satisfaction with democracy. First, political efficacy refers to the degree in which voters believe they can understand national politics and the belief or perception that their actions generally have an influence on political institutions. Campbell et al.  and Abramson and Aldrich  show that lack of political efficacy is a major source of low voter turnout. Moreover, recent studies by Karp and Banducci  and Norris  reveal that individuals who are considered efficacious tend to be much more involved in politics. In our previous studies , although we have been able to confirm a positive significant relationship between political efficacy and electoral participation in post-communist Europe and Western democracies, however, with respect to tropical Africa this relationship was directly contrary to what we expected in that the relationship was non-significant.
2.3 Network of recruitments and non-voting
Apart from individual resources and motivational factors that we have examined above, Verba et al.  argue the only way we could explain why people do not take part in politics is based on the idea that
3. Data, method and measurement
To examine comparatively the determinants of non-voting across countries in post-communist Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, one of the initial challenges that we encountered was the lack of comprehensive survey data that included a multitude of countries across both regions. However, to overcome this hurdle, we rely on two separate datasets: European Social Survey3 (ESS-2012; Round 6) and Afrobarometer4 (AB-2011-2013; Round 5 ) for Central and Eastern European and sub-Saharan Africa countries, which allows us to embark on an international comparison, as the measures of both the dependent and independent variables do not vary very much across the two geo-political regions. Moreover, considering that our outcome variable (i.e. non-voting) is binary, we use multivariate or logistic regression modelling to estimate the probability of non-voting across the two regions. Also, we introduce robust standard errors in our model estimation so as to reduce the variance of fluctuation across our data or samples and proceeds by building a step-by-step model that takes into consideration three theoretical perspectives, while adding a final model that takes into consideration our individual indicators and a few of the country-specific variables that we have added to our data.
Our main dependent variable of interest is non-voting. We employ a dichotomous measure of the respondents who did not vote in the most recent elections. Turning to the independent variables, our key variables are organised into three groups: individual resources, motivation and networking factors. First, concerning individual resources, we include the following: educational level, income and two demographic factors (age and gender). Second, for the motivational variables, we include: political efficacy, interest, trust and satisfaction with democracy. Third, for the networking factors, we include: membership in associational or voluntary organisations, and place of residence (i.e. whether respondents live in an urban or rural area). But more importantly, considering that our two geo-political regions have differing institutional characteristics, but even more so based on current research by Franklin , Gallego  and Van Egmond et al.  which reveals that politics or political action is influenced by the context in which individuals find themselves, in this study we include a number of country-specific contextual variables (i.e. electoral system, concurrent elections, closeness of elections and trust in elections) in predicting non-voting. Appendices 1 and 2 show which countries are included in our study and how the different variables have been operationalised.
To explain the probability of non-voting in the new democracies of post-communist Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, we estimate a multivariate logistic regression which combines micro- and macro-level variables and build four models as guided by our theoretical strategy. Moreover, considering our main objective is to evaluate the genuine effects of the variables at different levels and using different models, we began by breaking down citizens’ propensity for non-voting along the lines of each of our key theoretical perspectives (i.e. individual resources, motivation, networks, and contextual or country-level) by building very parsimonious models step-by-step, before rounding up by pulling all the variables from each of the four theoretical perspective into an expanded logit model that incorporates the effect of individual- and country-level variables. An overview of the results from the logistic modelling is summarised in Table 3, which shows which variables was statistically significant in the two regions.
First, we began by modelling the effect of individual resource variables on the probability of non-voting in post-communist Europe and sub-Saharan African countries, with the results revealing the following. Looking at education, in Central and Eastern Europe, people with higher education (i.e. secondary or higher education) turn out to have the lowest probability of being non-voters compared to those with low education, who have the highest rate of non-voting. However, this is directly contrary to our sub-Saharan Africa countries, where those with higher education rather turn to have a higher rate of non-voting compared to individuals with lower education. Next, regarding socio-economic status, across the two regions, we are able to confirm that those with a lower income or socio-economic status are more likely to have a higher rate of non-voting, which comes as a surprise with respect to the African countries. Additionally, looking at age of respondents, across both regions, our results indicate that younger cohorts have a higher rate of non-voting compared to their older citizens. Similarly, turning to the last individual resource variable, that is, gender, in post-communist countries gender points to a significant effect with non-voting, albeit men appearing to have a higher rate of non-voting compared to women. With regards to sub-Saharan Africa, we can confirm women have a higher rate of non-voting compared to men.
Second, pertaining to the motivational or political psychology variables, we can make the following extrapolations. In post-communist European countries, what is observed is that political interest, political trust and political efficacy tend to reduce the probability of non-voting. With respect to sub-Saharan Africa, we can equally confirm that political trust and political interest do in fact reduce the probability of non-voting, but this is not true for political efficacy, which surprisingly shows that those who are declared to be politically efficacious are more likely to be non-voters. Finally, with respect to satisfaction with democracy, across the two regions, our results indicate no substantial effect between being satisfied with a country’s democracy and the probability of non-voting.
Third, turning to the networks of recruitment, we modelled two types of variable (i.e. associational networks and place of residence). In Central and Eastern Europe as well as countries in tropical Africa, what we observe is that those who declared not to be members of associational or voluntary organisations have a higher rate of non-voting compared to those who are members of such organisations. Similarly, looking at one’s place of residence (i.e. urban or rural) what we can deduce is that individuals living in urban areas across both regions are more likely to be non-voters.
Fourth, looking at contextual-level variables, we can make the following remarks. Beginning with electoral system, in both regions, what our data tells is that the rate of non-voting is supposedly higher in countries with a disproportional electoral system (i.e. majoritarian, mixed or plurality). Additionally, turning to closeness of elections, our results tell of a statistically significant relationship with non-voting in Central/Eastern European countries, indicating that the probability of non-voting tends to be higher in countries where voters perceive the elections are closed or competitive. This result is directly opposite to that of our sub-Saharan African countries, where the results points to a non-significant relationship although in the expected direction (i.e. citizens living in countries where the elections are less competitive tend to have a higher rate of non-voting). Moving to trust in elections or electoral integrity, our data reveals that across both regions, the rate of non-voting tends to be higher in countries where voters perceive the elections are not considered to be free and fair. Lastly, we equally evaluate the effect of concurrent elections on non-voting. Although we could test the effect of this variable only in tropical Africa, what can be said is that the probability of non-voting is said to be higher in countries that do not concurrently held elections.
4.1 Who are the non-voters and how much consistency do we find across the two regions?
To explain the determinates of non-voting in the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, we have relied heavily on cross-sectional survey data that is derived from the European Social Survey and the Afrobarometer. By employing a theory triangulation that consist of individual-level variables, and by adding a few country-specific indicators, we have tested the distinct types of effect on the individual decision to abstain from electoral politics. All done, we are now left with two important question which constitute the core objective of this chapter:
Beginning with the first question, (i.e.
5. Conclusion and implications
So far, our analysis of the determinants of non-voting across new democracies in post-communist Europe and sub-Saharan Africa carries a number of implications. First, we begin by exploring the implication of what the analysis reveals in light of the theory used (i.e. individual resource, mobilisation and networking) and in order to do this, we ask a very simply question: does our theoretical model works equally well across both regions? Answering this question prove challenging because some variables or theories seem to very important in predicting people’s decision not to engage in electoral politics while other do not. That said, we can confirm individual resource, mobilisation and networking models seems to work well across both regions (i.e. most especially in Central and Eastern European countries) with a few exceptions in sub-Saharan Africa countries (i.e. relating to education and political efficacy). Additionally, the country, contextual or institutional variables seem harder to evaluate in general terms because of the inconsistency of the findings. Overall, the full picture in relations to non-voting in new democracies suggest that political behaviour of voters in these regions is determine by many of the same factors that influence political participation in older democracies. Second, this paper also carries certain implications for both future research and democracy: (1) The first relates to how voters could be brought back to the polls or encouraged to participate in electoral politics. In fact, as we have observed in this study, this could be achieved by increasing by raising citizens’ interest in politics and improving their trust in political institutions. For this to be attained, parties must be able to provide voters with clear alternatives, and invest in electoral campaigning, most especially in urban areas. (2) Next, one of the practical implication of this study relates to the conduct of future elections and democracy in these regions. In an era of declining turnout, this study points to the need for electoral integrity and transparency, that is, the need for countries to organise free and fair elections that will not only get voters back to the polls but will equally improve the overall quality of democracy in these regions.
The author would like to thank the editor for the valuable comments and suggestions to improve the quality of the paper.
Conflict of interest
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
1 Sample of countries in the European Social Survey and Afrobarometer Data.
|Regions||Number of countries||Countries covered|
|Sub-Saharan Africa||27||Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique Madagascar, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Tanzania, Uganda Zambia, Zimbabwe.|
|Post-communist countries||10||Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine|
2 Operationalisation of the variables.
|Variable||Operationalisation: central and Eastern Europe (European Social Survey)||Operationalisation: sub-Saharan Africa (Afrobarometer)|
|Non-voting||Some people do not vote nowadays for one reason or another. Did you vote in the last national election? (1) for non-voting and ‘voting’ (0), thereby omitting all the people who had not been eligible to vote at the last election.||With regard to the most recent national election, which statement is true for you? Voting in the most recent national election? (1) for non-voting and (0) for voting.|
|Age||Age is recoded into four-age categories: young adults (i.e. consisting of those aged 15–33), adults (i.e. those aged 34–49), middle-aged (i.e. those aged 50–59) and finally elderly people (i.e. those aged 66 and above).||Age is recoded into four-age categories: young adults (i.e. consisting of those aged 15–33), adults (i.e. those aged 34–49), middle-aged (i.e. those aged 50–59) and finally elderly people (i.e. those aged 66 and above).|
|Gender||Dummy: 1 for a woman, 0 for a man.||Dummy: 1 for a woman, 0 for a man.|
|Education||People were asked for the highest level of education they had achieved. The different educational systems & degree allows us to create three educational categories: Primary education, secondary education and higher education||People are asked for their highest educational level of education. Regarding education, respondent’s educational levels are recoded into four categories (i.e. no formal education, primary education, secondary education and higher education).|
|Income||Into which of the following income ranges does the total monthly income of this household fit:|
[10 deciles based on the currency and distribution of the country] (lowest income = 1…highest income = 10)
|We use occupational status as a proxy to measure income. Occupational status is measure by a question which asks about the citizen’s occupational status. A dummy variable is therefore created, with 1 assigned to individuals having jobs, while a coding of 0 is assigned to individuals who declared having no job.|
|Political interest||Political interest is capture by a question that asks how interested would you say you are in politics? We recode this into a four-point with not interested coded as 0, not very interested 1, somewhat interested assigned a value of 2 and very interested coded as 3.||Political interest is capture by a question that asks how interested would you say you are in public affairs? We recode this into a four-point with not interested coded as 0, not very interested 1, somewhat interested assigned a value of 2 and very interested coded as 3.|
|Political trust||Trust is measured by an evaluation regarding trust in the parliament, the legal system and politicians (i.e. please tell me on a scale of 0–10 how much you personally trust each of the following institutions.||How much do you trust each of the following, or have not you heard enough about them to say: The President/Prime Minister? Trust parliament/national assembly, Trust courts of law. Recoded into 0 = no trust, 1 = little, 3 = some, 4 = a lot)|
|Satisfaction with democracy||How satisfied with the way democracy works in country on a scale of 0–10 (i.e. 0 extremely dissatisfied, 10 extremely satisfied)||Overall, how satisfied are you with the way democracy works in the country? 0 Not satisfied, 1 not very satisfied, 2 fairly satisfied, 3 very satisfied.|
|Associational/informal networks||Membership in voluntary or informal networks is measure by evaluating membership in different social and political organisation such as religious, recreational, environment, labour, professional and humanitarian organisations.||Membership in voluntary or informal networks is measure by evaluating membership in different social and political organisation such as religious, recreational, environment, labour, professional and humanitarian organisations.|
|Residence||Recoded into 1 = urban area, 0 = rural area||Recoded into 1 = urban area, 0 = rural area|
|Electoral system||Dummy: 0 for Proportional system, 1 for plurality, mixed or majoritarian systems||Dummy: 0 for Proportional system, 1 for plurality, mixed or majoritarian systems|
|Concurrent elections||Dummy: 0 for elections not concurrent, 1 for concurrent elections||Dummy: 0 for elections not concurrent, 1 for concurrent elections|
|Closeness of elections||I measure closeness of election as the margin of victory for the winning candidate or over the runner-up in presidential elections. While for parliamentary democracies, we measure closeness of election as the difference in seat shares between the top two parties. That said, I coded the variable in such a way that a winning margin of less|
5% = 1, and a margin greater than 5% = 0.
|I measure closeness of election as the margin of victory for the winning candidate or over the runner-up in presidential elections. While for parliamentary democracies, we measure closeness of election as the difference in seat shares between the top two parties. That said, I coded the variable in such a way that a winning margin of less 5% = 1, and a margin greater than 5% = 0.|
3. Logistic analysis of non-voting: results for Central and Eastern European countries.
|Models/variables||Model I||Model II||Model III||Model IV|
|Middle-aged adults (50–59)||−.80||.064||.000||.449||−.608||.067||.000||.545||−.594||.067||.000||.552||−.606||.067||.000||.546|
|Elderly people (60+)||−1.05||.058||.000||.348||−.754||.061||.000||.470||−.751||.009||.000||.472||−.770||.062||.000||.989|
|Satisfaction with democracy||.002||.010||.84||1.02||.003||.122||.85||1.03||.002||.010||.85||1.002|
|Closeness of election||.243||.044||.007||1.133|
|Trust in elections||−.091||.013||000||.913|
4. Logistic analysis of non-voting: result for sub-Saharan African countries.
|Models/variables||Model I||Model II||Model III||Model IV|
|Middle-aged adults (50–59)||−.947||.059||.000||.388||−.920||.059||.000||.398||−.904||.059||.000||.405||−.944||.060||.000||.389|
|Elderly people (60+)||−.961||.062||.000||.383||−.922||.063||.000||.394||−.924||.063||.000||.397||−.971||.063||.000||.379|
|Satisfaction with democracy||−.073||.017||.000||.930||−.074||.017||.000||.929||.015||.018||.40||1.015|
|Closeness of elections||−.013||.035||.70||.987|
|Trust in elections||−.244||.015||.000||.784|
By relying on the representative, legitimacy and citizenship and quality of democracy, we provide a justification for why studying the phenomenon of non-voting within the context of new emerging democracies seem to matter.
In the case of post-communist Europe these are generally parliamentary elections, while for sub-Saharan Africa it is a mixture of presidential and parliamentary elections.
The European Social Survey (ESS) is an academically driven cross-national survey that has been conducted across Europe since its establishment in 2001. Every 2 years, face-to-face interviews are conducted with newly selected, cross-sectional samples. The survey measures the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour patterns of diverse populations in more than 30 nations http://www.europeansocialsurvey.org/data/download.html?r=6 [Accessed: 18/06/2018].
Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in more than 35 countries in Africa: http://afrobarometer.org/data/merged-round-5-data-34-countries-2011-2013-last-update-july-2015 [Accessed: 18/06/2018].
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- In the subsequent section, we examine why studying the issue of non-voting in the context of new democracies seem to matter.
- In the case of post-communist Europe these are generally parliamentary elections, while for sub-Saharan Africa it is a mixture of presidential and parliamentary elections.
- The European Social Survey (ESS) is an academically driven cross-national survey that has been conducted across Europe since its establishment in 2001. Every 2 years, face-to-face interviews are conducted with newly selected, cross-sectional samples. The survey measures the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour patterns of diverse populations in more than 30 nations: http://www.europeansocialsurvey.org/data/download.html?r=6 (Accessed: 20/06/2018).
- Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions and related issues in more than 35 countries in Africa: http://afrobarometer.org/data/merged-round-5-data-34-countries-2011-2013-last-update-july-2015 (Accessed: 20/06/2018).