Do endorsements by traditional leaders affect voter attitudes?

Traditional leaders or chiefs are believed to wield significant influence on their subjects’ civic engagement, political participation, and vote choice. Scholars argue that the source of their legitimacy – historical socio-cultural customs – and subjects’ trust and reverence enable them to help elected officials mobilise citizens to contribute their labour to community projects. In many developing countries, where the state’s reach is limited, traditional institutions can serve as alternative avenues for conflict resolution, maintaining peace in rural settings.

In this project, we examine whether traditional leaders or chiefs’ partisan involvement in multiparty elections undermines electoral accountability and state effectiveness. The study will be conducted in three traditional areas in the Bono, Bono East, and Ahafo regions in Ghana.

Ghana’s democratic constitution forbids chiefs’ involvement in politics. Despite this, political parties often engage chiefs during election campaigns and seek explicit public endorsements from them. Leading public bodies have criticised the involvement of chiefs in politics in Ghana: in October 2020, the President of the House of Chiefs, Togbe Afede XIV, went on radio to express his concern on the trend towards endorsements by some of his fellow chiefs.

This project adopts an experimental design that exposes roughly 2,000 voters to the explicit endorsement of a presidential candidate by the paramount chief of their area. Voters are randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions: control, endorsement, and endorsement plus rationale provided by chief.

We focus on the presidential race for two reasons. First, it is mainly for the presidential race that chiefly endorsements have been widely publicised and criticised. Second, as presidential results are aggregated across a single nationwide constituency, even in the unlikely event that our project positively influenced all sampled respondents, it would not affect final results.

Outputs

  • Publication - Project Report

    Do chiefs' endorsements affect voter behaviour?

    We study whether and why traditional leaders can influence voter behaviour using real endorsement messages made by chiefs in support of the incumbent presidential candidate during Ghana’s 2020 presidential elections. Using an experimental design, we document a positive impact of endorsement messages on vote choice, but not on turnout. We find that the effect of chiefs’...

    17 Sep 2021 | Sarah Brierley, George Ofosu