Election 2024: The non-partisan voters
In the Afrobarometer survey, the question is asked “do you feel close to any particular political party?” Some say they do.
Others say they don’t.
In the lead up to the 2016 election, the political label neutral was treated with contempt on social media. Anyone who described themselves as neutral got an earful from partisans.
The quote “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality” attributed to the late Rev. Desmond Tutu was a regular response to neutrals.
I often wondered why a particular side of the political aisle seemed offended by the neutral political label.
They wanted everyone to declare their partisan stand.
Those who resisted were baptised with a political party of the choice of these partisans.
Their argument was simply “there are no neutrals.”
It is my argument that people are free to choose their political labels.
I believe there are political neutrals.
Given the political backlash to the neutrality label, perhaps non-partisan would have been a more politically accommodating label.
Whether non-partisan or political neutral, there are those who have regularly said “they do not feel close to any particular political party.”
I call them non-partisan.
Counting the non-Partisans
In Round One (1999) of the Afrobarometer, 36 per cent identified themselves as non-partisan.
That percentage stayed relatively the same until Round 5 (2012) when it increased to 40 per cent.
In Round 6 (2014), the percentage of self-identified non-partisans dropped to 32 per cent.
Since then, there has been a sixteen-percentage point increase in the number of self-identified non-partisans.
In the most recent survey round (2022), 48 per cent self-identified as non-partisan.
The most recent survey (2022) also revealed some interesting demographic patterns among non-partisans. Consider these examples.
In the urban areas, there are more self-identified non-partisans (51%) than there are partisans (49%).
The opposite is true in the rural areas where there are more self-identified partisans (53%) than there are non-partisans (47%).
Among men, there are more self-identified partisans (53%) than there are partisans (47%).
The opposite is true among women, where there are more self-identified non-partisans (52%) than there are partisans (48%).
Let me sum up briefly the observation among the other demographic groups – a) those aged between eighteen and thirty-five (18-35) have more self-identified partisans than non-partisans while those thirty-six years and above have more self-identified non-partisans than partisans; b) those with no formal or a primary school education have more self-identified non-partisans than partisans while those with a secondary or postsecondary education have more self-identified partisans than non-partisans.
Lastly, those in the coastal and middle belt regions have more self-identified non-partisans than partisans while those in the northern belt have more self-identified partisans than non-partisans.
Who Will They Vote For?
The first thing to note is that these non-partisans are politically active when it comes to voting.
In the Afrobarometer survey, respondents are asked if they voted in the most recent national election.
This always means the elections prior to when the survey was being conducted.
Across the eight out of nine rounds that this question has been asked, the percentage of non-partisans who say they voted in the most recent national election has ranged between seventy per cent (70%) in survey year 2012 and eighty-six per cent (86%) in survey year 2005. Overall, seventy-five per cent (75%) of non-partisans do indicate that they voted in the most recent election.
Now to the Afrobarometer question that helps gauge voting intentions.
What did non-partisans say in the most recent round (2022) on the question “If presidential elections were held tomorrow, which candidate’s party would you vote for?”
There are two answers.
First, forty-two per cent (42%) said they would vote; forty-eight per cent (48%) said they would not vote; eleven per cent (11%) said they didn’t know whether they would vote or not.
The second answer.
Among those who say they would vote, sixty-three per cent (63%) said they would vote for the National Democratic Congress (NDC); twenty-nine per cent (29%) said they would vote for the New Patriotic Party (NPP); eight per cent (8%) said they would vote for other political parties.
As I regularly say though, we still have a good one year before the 2024 election.
Between now and then voters can change their mind.
As we gear up for 2024 here is the lesson.
Instead of adopting an adversarial attitude towards the non-partisans or political neutrals as we call them, know that a) they are politically active; and b) they have voting preferences as the next election approaches.
As a political party you have two choices – you can court them, or you can alienate them.
The writer is a Democracy and Development fellow at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana).