Voting out autocrats: evidence from Zambia

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1 Scopus citations


The world is currently undergoing a period of autocratization, often led by democratically elected presidents who begin to dismantle democratic institutions. In countries with reasonably free and fair elections, the electorate’s ability to vote out the autocratizing incumbent is an important democratic safeguard. Does autocratization matter to the voting public? How do citizens weigh concerns about democratic decline alongside partisan attachments and performance evaluations? This study examines Zambia’s 2021 election, in which citizens voted out an autocratizing incumbent. I use a multimethod approach to illuminate what motivated voters, including analysis of constituency-level election data, qualitative analysis of open-ended responses in an original 300-person survey, and regression analysis of the nationally representative Afrobarometer data. The results indicate that while partisanship and negative evaluations of the incumbent’s economic management were important for voters, so were concerns about the decline of democracy. Voter motivations differed across constituency-level partisan context. Key voters in competitive constituencies were motivated by both economic woes and concerns of democratic decline, while voters in incumbent strongholds defected to the opposition primarily for economic reasons. The study has important implications for understanding voter motivations across partisan contexts under autocratization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Vote choice
  • Zambia
  • autocratization
  • democratic backsliding
  • electoral behaviour
  • voter motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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