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Where do your loyalties lie? Party Switching and Voters’ Response in Nigeria

Institutions & Governance Nigeria

Nigeria BBC News 2019

Study Context

The impact of patronage politics on voting behavior in Africa has pitted several academic camps against each other. While some scholars argue that voters’ agency is stifled by patronage politics (Young, 2004; Manning, 2005; and van de Walle, 2007), others maintain that rational voting and clientelism are not mutually exclusive (Lindberg, 2012, Cheeseman et al., 2021). Against this backdrop, certain scholars speculate that if MPs switched political parties, they would tow their base along through strong clientelism. Conversely, proponents of rational voting in Africa speculate a more complicated outcome, casting doubts on the potency of patronage politics. Nonetheless, no robust study on voters’ response to party-switching has been conducted in Africa despite the prevalence of switching in the continent, and copious existing research on the subject matter in other continents.

This research seeks to fill this gap by systematically assessing voters’ responses to party switching on the continent, using Nigeria (with over 200 cases of party defection in the last eight years) as a case study.

Study Design

This study compiled an original dataset on the 469 federal legislators in Nigeria from 2011 to 2019, cutting across two legislative tenures: the seventh and eighth assemblies (2011-2015 and 2015-2019 respectively), and both legislative chambers of Nigeria’s bicameral National Assembly (the House of Representative and the Senate). A logistic regression was run on the electoral results of the 2015 and 2019 elections in order to compare the electoral outcomes of switchers to non-switchers while holding constant other variables such as gender, years in public office, party affiliation (ruling or opposition), committee leadership, literacy rate of constituencies, party strongholds, voters’ turnout, and history of prior switching.


Results and Policy Lessons

Contrary to popular belief from prior studies on party switching, party switchers in Nigeria performed worse than non-switchers. A nationwide telephone survey of 1,023 participants likewise revealed that about 60% of Nigerians would choose a  non-switcher over a switcher. Similarly, the same percentage attribute self-interest as opposed to ideological or policy reasons as the perceived motivation for switching among members of Parliament. Findings from the dataset showed that non-switchers were 9 times more likely to be reelected than party switchers in Nigeria.

  • Victor Agboga
  • Politics and International Studies Department (PAIS)
  • University of Warwick

2022 — 2023

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