Working Paper
Do gifts buy votes?

Evidence from sub-Saharan Africa

Vote-buying—or the pre-electoral distribution of private goods in exchange for support at the ballot box—is often blamed for the poor economic performance of many sub-Saharan countries. For instance, vote-buying may undermine accountability and the implementation of sound development policies by pressuring individuals to vote against their own interests. Yet, these effects depend on vote-buying leading to electoral outcomes that would not have occurred otherwise.

In this paper, we use Afrobarometer survey data from 17 sub-Saharan elections between 2000 and 2005 to show that, despite its widespread prevalence, vote-buying has limited electoral impact: in only 6 out of 17 elections are gifts-for-votes practices associated with higher turnout than would be expected; yet, in only one election (Nigeria in 2003) did this higher turnout visibly translate into electoral advantage for a particular party. This contrasts with common perceptions about the effectiveness of electoral handouts and the apparent low quality of sub-Saharan African elections.