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Ghana’s democracy balance sheet - Insights from Afrobarometer survey

BY: Dr John Osae-Kwapong

I have often argued that Ghanaians have made their “peace” with democracy as their preferred system of government.

This, I back up with the patterns I see in their responses to three particular questions in the Afrobarometer survey. The percentage of citizens who (a) say that democracy is preferable to any other form of government; (b) say that leaders must be chosen through regular elections and (c) say that they disapprove of military, one party and one-man rule is the basis of my contention.

But beyond how much we prefer democracy, is the other vexing question of how much of democracy we believe we are getting. In the last couple of years, that question of how much democracy citizens believe they are getting has been largely measured by the extent to which citizens say they are satisfied with the way democracy is working, a question also asked by the Afrobarometer survey.

Balance sheet concept

The idea of a democracy balance sheet compares how much we say we want democracy (measured by support for democracy) with how much of democracy we feel we are getting (measured by satisfaction with the way democracy is working). In constructing the balance sheet, three outcomes emerge. The first is a surplus, which is represented by a positive number and means that citizens feel they are getting more out of democracy than they initially envisioned.

This first outcome in my view is a very positive development and one that governments should strive towards. The second is a deficit and is represented by a negative figure, meaning that citizens feel that they are getting less democracy than they desire.Finally, a balance is achieved when citizens feel they are getting the same amount of democracy that they demand.

Our overall balance sheet

Over the course of eight rounds of the Afrobarometer survey, Ghana’s democracy balance sheet has recorded deficits seven out of eight times, where satisfaction with the way democracy is working has lagged support for democracy. The deficit was at its highest in Round 1, 1999 (-23 per cent) and at its lowest in Round 7, 2017 (-three per cent).

In Round 4, 2008 the democracy balance sheet showed a surplus (+2 per cent), where citizens’ satisfaction with the way democracy was working emerged a little higher than support for democracy.Cumulatively, results of eight rounds of the survey shows that our democracy balance sheet is in a deficit (-nine per cent) where 75 per cent of Ghanaians say they support democracy, while 66 per cent say they are satisfied with the way democracy is working.

There is a point worth noting about our support for and satisfaction with democracy in Round 2, 2002. I describe that year as a period of democratic uncertainty because 37 per cent of Ghanaians answered “don’t know” to the preference for democracy question and 36 per cent answered “don’t know” to the satisfaction with the way democracy is working question.

What drives our democracy deficits?

To explore possible drivers of our democracy deficits, I explored three broad areas to see whether the patterns observed mirrored the patterns observed in our democracy balance sheet. The areas are (a) trust in institutions that make democracy work. (I examined 10 institutions and the average percentage of Ghanaians who said they trust these institutions a lot); (b) perceptions of the fight against corruption (the percentage of Ghanaians who perceive the fight against corruption as being handled fairly well/very well by government) and (c) government performance (I examined nine public problem domains and the average percentage of Ghanaians who rated government performance as fairly well or very well.)

I observed the following: first, improvements in the evaluation of government performance corresponded with improvements in the democracy balance sheet. Further, in the first four rounds (1999, 2002, 2005, 2008), the changes in trust in institutions that make democracy work did not consistently correspond with changes in the democracy balance sheet. However, since Round 5 (2012) when trust improves, the democracy balance sheet improves. Finally, in the first four rounds (1999, 2002, 2005, 2008) the changes in perceptions of the fight against corruption did not consistently correspond with changes in the democracy balance sheet. However, from Round 5 (2012) when perception of the fight against corruption improves, the democracy balance sheet improves.

Democracy deficits should be a cause for concern for governments as it depicts discontent on the part of citizens in terms of the way democracy is working. However, it is important to note that the promise of democracy will always be a work in progress. To improve our democracy balance sheet i.e., achieving very low deficits or surpluses, it is very clear that governments must adequately address key public problems, institutions must work hard to earn high levels of trust from citizens and as a people, not fail in our commitment to fight corruption.

The writer is a Democracy and Governance Fellow at the CDD-Ghana.