More than 80 million eligible voters in Nigeria are expected to troop out on Saturday to select their preferred candidate for presidency as the presidential poll holds. With the campaigns by the major candidates hardly issue-based, we consider how Nigerians might vote on February 16.
There are different categories of people who will vote: party loyalists, either by affiliation or occupation; people with ethnic bias; people whose choices are informed by their perceptions of candidates’ personalities and people whose choices will be influenced by the state of the nation. Often, party loyalists and people whose choices are informed by their perceptions of candidates’ personalities play a major role in who wins elections. However, on few occasions when a leader has obviously performed poorly, people whose choices are influenced by the state of the nation may cause a shift, but the category of people who vote based on their perception of the candidates makes this difficult, sticking with their candidate regardless of the state of the nation.
The reality of the having the categories of voters described above is a Nigerian presidential election with two septuagenarians as frontrunners. Not that there is anything bad in having old leaders, but in Nigeria’s case, one of the two old candidates is not in the best of health and the other is labelled corrupt. Although there are 73 presidential candidates but only incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and candidate of the main opposition party Atiku Abubakar, together, tick all the boxes for categories of voters described above and this is why only one of them could win Nigeria’s presidential election on Saturday.
In recent elections, accountability has played an increasingly important role. With the Nigerian constitution allowing incumbents to seek re-election, accountability of government is ensured by consecutive elections. According to Friedrich’s rule of anticipated reactions, elections motivate the incumbents seeking reelection to anticipate citizens’ future reactions to their public policy. When incumbents perform below the expectation of the citizens, they risk losing their seat. This is what is playing out in the Nigerian presidential race where the opposition has mounted a formidable challenge for the presidency.
Politics is always about perception. It is the reason why Atiku Abubakar visited the United States for just hours to dispel rumours he was barred from entering the U.S. due to corruption allegations. There are indeed evidence linking him to alleged corruption but many who say Atiku is corrupt have no knowledge of the Jefferson case. Atiku’s former boss ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo did not help his case either, with past comments raising questions about the presidential candidate’s character. Hence, the perception of corruption has stuck with Atiku and it is the reason why many votes that would have gone his way will end up with other candidates like Kingsley Moghalu, Fela Durotoye and Omoyele Sowore.
Bad thing about perception for politicians is that how they are perceived isn’t always within their control. In fact, it is easier to alter the public’s perception of opponents than it is to create a taint-free persona for yourself.
The conflicted voter
On Saturday, some Nigerians would still be torn between the two main candidates. Buhari, because they believe he is incorruptible despite everything that has gone wrong with his presidency; and Atiku, because they believe he can turn the country’s economy around.
These Nigerians would mull over their choices on their way to vote. Some may decide before they get to the polling booth while others may end up making up their mind when they are about to thumbprint the ballot. For those who still struggle with choosing either of the two candidates at that point, they may end up voting one of the popular alternatives. A few others might vote for the first party they notice on the ballot, just to get the decision over with. According to Jon Krosnick, professor of Psychology and Political Science at the Ohio State University, this is why candidates get about 2.3 percent more votes on average when their names are listed first on a ballot than when they’re listed later.
“Voters are least inclined toward the first-listed candidate when they know a lot about a race,” he noted, explaining, however, that the situation is applicable when voters are not very interested in politics.
“People who are very interested in politics are least likely to be influenced by name order, presumably because they know the most about the race.”
There is also a section of conflicted voters torn between voting for their preferred candidate or the candidate who offered gratification.
“Due to the voter’s poverty level, ethnicity and religious inclinations, voting pattern runs inline in order to satisfy those religious/ethnic interest and personal immediate economic needs,” notes Iwundu E of the Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria. “They accept gratification from politicians to vote for them even when they knew that such persons are not credible,” he adds.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body responsible for conducting elections in Nigeria has promised to tackle vote buying, which was widespread at recent governorship elections in the country.