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Voter turnout in West Africa

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Voter turnout is a key indicator of the vitality of a democracy. It helps measure the trust that citizens place in their political institutions and politicians, and shows how citizens participate in the governance of their country. Low turnout is usually associated with voter apathy and a lack of confidence in the government, institutions and political processes. While the global average voter turnout has decreased significantly since the 1990s, registered voter participation in Africa’s still-fragile democracies has varied widely between countries and over time. Nigeria is the most striking example. Since the return of democracy in 1999, voter turnout reached a peak of 69% in 2003 and has then continuously declined to a record-low of 34.8% in 2019. While Nigeria’s population has nearly doubled over the past 20 years and there are about 25 million additional registered voters, the absolute number of Nigerians who are voting has declined (30.2 million in 1999 compared to 28.6 million in 2019). A large number of socio‑economic, political and institutional factors influences the decision to vote. For example, the President Jorge Carlos Fonseca of Cabo Verde secured a second term in the 2016 election, winning 73% of the vote in the first round. The election had a record-low voter turnout of 35.5%, mainly because Fonseca’s re-election was widely expected. Moreover, voter intimidation, electoral violence and fraud can also prevent registered voters from casting their ballots. Despite efforts to engage new, young voters, some West African countries show a significant divergence between the number of registered voters and number of people who are eligible to vote.

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