Skip to main content Accessibility help

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

  • Dominika Koter (a1)

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.

Corresponding author
Hide All

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.

Hide All
Afrobarometer Survey. Round 2 (2003), Round 3 (2005) and Round 4 (2008). <>
Agence de Presse Sénégalaise (APS). 2012. ‘Résultats provisoires du premier tour de l'élection présidentielle sénégalaise’. Dakar, Senegal.
Agence National de la Statistique et de Démographie (ANSD). 2002. ‘Troisième Recensement Général de la Population et de l'Habitat’. Dakar, Senegal.…/RGPH3_RAP_NAT.pdf
Anderson, D. & Maupeu, H.. 2003. ‘Kenya, la succession de Moi’, Politique Africaine 90: 516.
Bates, R. 1981. Markets and States in Tropical Africa: the political basis of agricultural policies. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Beck, L. 1997. ‘Senegal's “patrimonial democrats”: incremental reform and the obstacles to the consolidation of democracy’, Canadian Journal of African Studies 31, 1: 131.
Beck, L. 2001. ‘Reining in the Marabouts? Democratization and local governance in Senegal’, African Affairs 100: 601–21.
Beck, L. 2008. Brokering Democracy in Africa: the rise of clientelist democracy in Senegal. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Bezemer, D. & Headey, D.. 2008. ‘Agriculture, development, and urban bias’, World Development 36, 8: 1342–64.
Boone, C. 2003. Political Topographies of the African State: territorial authority and institutional choice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Conroy- Krutz, J. 2009. ‘Incumbent advantage and urban-rural geography in sub-Saharan Africa’, ms.
Conseil Constitutionnel du Sénégal. ‘Résultats définitifs de l'élection présidentielle 2007’.
Cour Constitutionnelle. 2000. ‘Résultats du premier tour de l'élection présidentielle sénégalaise’. Dakar, Senegal.
Cruise O'Brien, D. 1971. The Mourides of Senegal. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Diop, A.B. 2002. Logiques sociales et démocratie électorale au Sénégal. Essai de reconstruction et d'interprétation d'une trajectoire de crise: l'exemple de Fouta Toro (1983–2001). Ph.D. diss., Insitut d'Etudes Politiques de Bordeaux, Université Montesquieu – Bordeaux IV.
Diop, M-C., Diouf, M. & Diaw, A.. 2000. ‘Le Baobab a été déracine. L'alternance au Sénégal’, Politique Africaine 78: 157–79.
Fatton, R. 1986. ‘Clientelism and patronage in Senegal’, African Studies Review 29, 4: 6178.
Fatton, R. 1987. Making of a Liberal Democracy: Senegal's passive revolution, 1975–1985. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Ferree, K. 2004. ‘The microfoundations of ethnic voting: evidence from South Africa’, Afrobarometer Working Paper 40.
Foltz, W. 1969. ‘Social structure and political behavior of Senegalese elites’, Behavior Science Notes, 4: 145–63.
GERCOP. 1999. ‘Etude sur le comportement électoral dans les régions de Thiès et Diourbel’. Saint-Louis, Senegal: GERCOP.
Harding, R. 2010. ‘Urban–rural differences in incumbent support across Africa’, Afrobarometer Working Paper 120.
Harsch, E. 2003. ‘Senegal: to fight hunger, modernize farming’, Africa Recovery 17: 1.
Herbst, J. 2000. States and Power in Africa: comparative lessons in authority and control. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Herbst, J. 2001. ‘Political liberalization in Africa after ten years’, Comparative Politics 33, 3: 357–76.
Jeffries, R. 1998. ‘The Ghanaian elections of 1996: towards the consolidation of democracy?’, African Affairs 97, 387: 189208.
Kaspin, D. 1995. ‘The politics of ethnicity in Malawi's democratic transition’, Journal of Modern African Studies 33, 4: 595620.
Laitin, D. 1986. Hegemony and Culture: politics and religious change among the Yoruba. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Lemarchand, R. 1972. ‘Political clientelism and ethnicity in tropical africa: competing solidarities in nation-building’, American Political Science Review 66, 1: 6890.
Lindberg, S. 2003. ‘It's our time to “chop”: do elections in Africa feed neo-patrimonialism rather than counteract it?’, Democratization 10, 2: 121–40.
Lipton, M. 1977. Why Poor People Stay Poor: urban bias in world development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lipton, M. 1993. ‘Urban bias: of consequences, classes and causality’, Journal of Development Studies 29, 4: 229–58.
Magaloni, B. 2006. Voting for Autocracy: Hegemonic Party Survival and its Demise in Mexico. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Parson, J. 1992. ‘Liberal democracy, the liberal state and the 1989 general elections in Botswana’, in Stedman, S., ed. Botswana: the political economy of democratic development. Boulder, CO: Lynn Rienner Publishers.
Patterson, A. 2002. ‘The impact of Senegal's decentralization on women in local governance’, Canadian Journal of African Studies 36, 3: 490529.
Posner, D. 2005. Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Posner, D. & Simon, D.. 2002. ‘Economic conditions and incumbent support in Africa's new democracies: evidence from Zambia’, Comparative Political Studies 35, 3: 313–36.
Projection de population du Sénégal; Recensement de 2002.
Resnick, D. 2011. ‘In the shadow of the city: Africa's urban poor in opposition strongholds’, Journal of Modern African Studies 49, 1: 141–66.
Sahn, D. & Stifel, D.. 2003. ‘Urban-rural inequality in living standards in Africa’, Journal of African Economies 12, 4: 564–97.
Sandbrook, R. 1996. ‘Transitions without consolidation: democratization in six African cases’, Third World Quarterly 17, 1: 6987.
Savané, V. & Sarr, B.. 2012. Y'en a Marre: Radioscopie d'une Jeunesse Insurgée au Sénégal. Paris: L'Harmattan.
Schumacher, E. 1975. Politics, Bureaucracy, and Rural Development in Senegal. Berkeley & Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
Stokes, S. 2007. ‘Political Clientelism’, in Boix, C. & Stokes, S., eds. Handbook of Comparative Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sy, A. 2012. Le 23 Juin au Sénégal (Ou la Souveraineté Reconquise). Paris: L'Harmattan.
Sy, A. 2013. Les Elections Présidentielles au Sénégal de mars 2012. Paris: L'Harmattan.
van de Walle, N. 2003. ‘Presidentialism and Clientelism in Africa's Emerging Party Systems’, Journal of Modern African Studies 41, 2: 297321.
van Walraven, K. 2002. ‘The end of an era: the Ghanaian elections of December 2000’, Journal of Contemporary African Studies 20, 2: 183202.
Vicente, P. & Wantchekon, L.. 2009. ‘Clientelism and vote buying: lessons from field experiments in African elections’, Oxford Review of Economic Policy 25, 2: 292305.
Villalón, L. 1995. Islamic Society and State Power in Senegal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Young, C. & Kante, B.. 1991. ‘Governance, democracy, and the 1988 Senegalese elections’, in Hyden, G. & Bratton, M., eds. Governance and Politics in Africa. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Agence France Presse, 28.12.2008. Paris, France.

Jeune Afrique. 4–10.2.2007; 8.3.2012. Paris, France.

Le Quotidien 16. 9·2011; 2.3.2012. Dakar, Senegal.

Le Soleil, 4–5.2.2012; 15.2.2012; 1.3.2012; 6.3.2012; 9.3.2012; 13.3.2012. Dakar, Senegal.

Sud Quotidien, 2.2.2012; 3.2.2012; 8.2.2012; 21.2.2012; 22.2.2012; 12.3.2012. Dakar, Senegal.

Walfadjri, 2.2.2012; 5.2.2012. Dakar, Senegal.

Abourizk, Samir. Leader of Democratie Citoyenne, 16.10.2006.

Bâ, Abbas. PVD politician. 26.2.2007.

Camara, Mame Less. Lecturer at CESTI School of Journalism. 17.10.2006.

Diallo, Opa. Member of Parliament (LD/MPT). 20.11.2006.

Diakhaté, Moustapha. PDS politician. 31.1.2007.

Dieng, Ousman Tanor. Presidential Candidate (PS). 14.4.2007.

Diop, Mbaye-Jacques. President of Conseil de la Republique, 01.3.2007.

Diouf, Madior, Secretary General of RND. 01.3.2007.

Diouf, Madieyna. MP (AFP). 14.4.2007.

Gaye, Babacar. MP (PDS), 3rd Vice-President of the National Assembly. 29.11.2006 and 29.5.2013.

Gueye, Sémou Pathé. Politician (PIT). 1.3.2007 and 3.3.2007.

Kanté, Babacar. Vice President of the Constitutional Council, 2.2.2007.

Sall, Baidy. Permanent Adjunct Secretary (AJ /Pads), 14.2.2007.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Modern African Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-278X
  • EISSN: 1469-7777
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed