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Urban and rural voting patterns in Senegal: the spatial aspects of incumbency, c. 1978–2012*

  • Dominika Koter (a1)
Abstract
ABSTRACT

One of the most striking voting patterns in many African elections is the marked difference between urban and rural voters in their willingness to support the incumbent. In many countries, incumbents receive their worst electoral scores in the cities, whereas the countryside votes overwhelmingly for them. This pattern is puzzling because there is no evidence that rural areas benefit more from government policies. On the contrary, most governments in Africa exhibit a pro-urban policy bias. Why then do rural voters support incumbents at higher rates? Using evidence from original interviews with politicians in Senegal, coupled with media coverage from several elections, I contend that incumbents enjoy higher success in rural vis-à-vis urban areas because rural voters are more susceptible to clientelism. Tight social structure, cohesion and the prominent role of local patrons facilitate the acquisition of entire blocs of rural voters for the incumbent. These findings are independent of ethnic, religious or party identity.

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Email: dkoter@colgate.edu
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Fieldwork conducted by the author in Senegal was generously supported by the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Award, the Macmillan Center at Yale University and the Research Council at Colgate University. The author thanks Nathaniel Cogly, Jeff Conroy-Krutz, Keith Darden, William Foltz, Ellen Lust, Susan Stokes, the editors and two anonymous reviewers, and the participants of the Comparative Politics Workshop at Yale University for helpful comments on previous drafts.

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