Some placard-bearing youth advocating an end to corruption in Ghana
Some placard-bearing youth advocating an end to corruption in Ghana

The paradox of corruption as an election issue

How much weight do voters place on corruption when deciding which candidate or political party to vote for? 

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I raise this question not to suggest that the Ghanaian voter does not care about the issue of corruption in government because I strongly believe they do. Rather, it is quite intriguing to examine their responses to this issue from various pre-election surveys and polls. What does the data reveal?

Corruption Ranking

In election years when Ghanaian voters have been asked about the issue of corruption, here is how they have answered concerning the total number of issues. From the National Commission of Civic Education’s Matters of Concern To the Ghanaian Voter, here is how corruption has been ranked– sixth out of 12 (2004); eighth out of 10 (2008); 12th out of 14 (2012); 7th out of 16 (2016); and 11th out of 20 (2020).

From CDD-Ghana’s pre-election surveys, corruption ranked as follows – second out of 11 (July 2016); second out of 10 (October 2016); and second out of 12 (October 2020). From Prof. Owusu Mensah’s pre-election study of 24 swing constituencies in 2016, the issue of corruption was ranked 4th out of a total of 8 issues.

According to Global Info Analytics (April 2024 poll), corruption was ranked 6th out of a total of 15 important issues. In Prof. Smart Sarpong’s baseline report (April 2024), corruption was ranked 10th out of a total of 12 issues.

One important distinction across these surveys/polls is that the framing of the question varies– NCCE (issues of concerns that must be prioritised as part of the elections); CDD-Ghana (issues likely to influence voter’s choices); Prof. Owusu Mensah (critical issues likely to influence voters); Global Info Analytics (top election issues for voters); and Prof. Smart Sarpong baseline report (critical challenges the next president must address).

Depending on how the question is framed, the response of Ghanaian voters to the corruption issue in election year suggests a) it is an issue that drives their vote or b) an issue whose importance diminishes relative to other issues.

For example, the NCCE election year surveys have regularly shown education, health and unemployment as the top three issues voters want prioritised in election years. In the Global Info Analytics poll as well as Prof. Sarpong’s baseline report, unemployment emerged as the number one issue with others such as the economy, roads, education, inflation, etc. outranking corruption.

Importance

Does this mean that Ghanaians do not place much importance on the issue of corruption? Not at all. A critical analysis of data from the Afrobarometer survey will show that the Ghanaian’s attitude towards corruption as an important problem to be dealt with has changed.

In 2002, Afrobarometer asked the following question – “In your opinion, what are the most important problems facing this country that the government should address?” The question has been asked eight times between then and the most recent round of the survey (Round 9, 2022).

Over the period, here is how Ghanaians have answered the question out of the total number of important problems – 16th out of 25 (2002); 15th out of 29 (2005); 18th out of 35 (2008); 11th out of 35 (2012); ninth out of 34 (2014); fifth out of 31 (2017); seventh out of 30 (2019); and sixth out of 31 (2022).

The trajectory shows that Ghanaians now increasingly see corruption as an important problem that must be dealt with by any government. Besides the changing importance attached to corruption, the evaluation of the fight against corruption clearly shows that Ghanaians have inclinations about the progress being made.

If you look at the results from the Afrobarometer survey, here is how Ghanaians have rated the fight against corruption in terms of the percentage who have answered “fairly well/very well” to the question “how well is the government handling the fight against corruption” – 34 per cent (1999); 63 per cent (2002); 55 per cent (2005); 56 per cent (2008); 43 per cent (2012); 25 per cent (2014); 60 per cent (2017); 40 per cent (2019);  and14 per cent (2022).

Two things are clear – a) Ghanaians increasingly see corruption as an important problem to be dealt with and b) overtime do not evaluate the fight against corruption well.

Making Sense of The Paradox

How then should the corruption issue be handled as part of the 2024 election given what the empirical evidence suggests? Political parties must demonstrate to the voter that while other issues such as unemployment, health, education, roads, etc. may be emphasised by them as being more important, corruption has a corrosive effect on the ability to effectively address these policy priorities.

Perhaps that is the connection needed to get voters to place more weight on how they feel about the issue and the extent to which it should influence their voting decisions.

The writer is the Project Director , Democracy Project

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