University of Sussex
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The power of perceptions: elites, opinion polling, and the quality of elections in sub-Saharan Africa

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posted on 2023-06-08, 19:10 authored by Graeme Ramshaw
This thesis examines the impact of the recent introduction of public opinion polling on the quality of elections in sub-Saharan Africa to understand why it has contributed to greater transparency and representativeness in some context and not in others. It makes a unique contribution to the literature in documenting the emergence of the public opinion polling industry on the continent and in developing a theoretical framework for understanding the influence of polling on elite perceptions and behaviour during electoral periods. The thesis situates the proliferation of polling in sub-Saharan Africa within the historical and contemporary debates on the relative merits and drawbacks of public opinion research in democratic politics and elections, while exploring the theoretical link between public opinion polling and the expansion of transparency and representation by elites. The framework developed here posits opinion polling as a new, modern form of political participation to which elites must adapt, creating opportunities for either expansion or contraction of political space around elections. In this model, elites’ perceptions of shifts in political competition play a critical role in shaping both the degree of change within the electoral process and the direction, whether toward greater or reduced transparency and responsiveness, of that change. The thesis employs a mixed method approach, using content analysis of print media and key informant interviews to inform detailed case studies of electoral campaigns in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda. Consistent with the model, the case study chapters present historical narratives that capture significant examples drawn over multiple elections from each of the four countries in which public opinion polling and elite perceptions of political competition have instigated changes in political behaviour, ultimately contributing to improvement or deterioration in the quality of elections.


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  • Institute of Development Studies Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • phd


  • eng


University of Sussex

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