In 2016, John Mahama made history as the first incumbent president to lose after one term in office since Ghana returned to multi-party democracy in 1992. So, what went wrong for the NDC? There are many theories one could put forth as reasons why the NDC lost. Some of these reasons are fairly obvious with a sluggish economy being one of them. Our approach is to look at the data to see what the numbers say about why the polls turned out the way they did.

Our take:

#1 – Depressed Voter Turnout In NDC Strongholds

  • The first effect the numbers show is a massive depression in voter turnout especially in NDC strongholds. The 2016 polls saw the 3rd lowest voter turnout since 1996. In 2012, voter turnout was a respectable 79%. Four years later, it dropped to 68.2%. That 10% drop translated to about 1.4 million fewer people voting by our conservative estimates.
  • Digging deeper into the turnout story, we see double-digit drops in 2 NDC strongholds: Volta (-24.98%) and Northern (-27.76%). We also see big drops in Greater Accra (-22.29%) and Western (-21.28%), two of the four swing regions that were crucial to win.
  • With an estimated 500,000+ people not voting in Northern and Volta Region combined, it’s no surprise the NDC suffered such a massive defeat. 

#2 – The Northern Region Became More Competitive

  • Another factor to consider is the fact that the Northern Region became more competitive. In the lead up to the 2016 elections, we run a number of simulations to determine which shifts in voter support could have an impact on the final results.
  • One scenario that stood out to us was the northern region shifting in support towards the NPP by a few points. In 2012, President Mahama won a little over 58% of the votes in the region, against 39% for Nana Addo. In 2016, NPP won about 42% of the votes in the region. 
  • That slight shift of about 3 percentage points combined with a drop in turnout in what is one of the NDC’s safest regions played a role in the NDC’s loss.

#3 – Urbanisation

  • The last factor to highlight in our 2016 recap is urbanisation. Ghana is now at an urbanisation rate of 56%, a number higher than many other African countries. 
  • Historically, the NPP has performed better in urban areas while the NDC has enjoyed a bedrock of support in the more rural parts of the country.
  • At the regional level, the NPP typically dominates regions with high urbanization rates while NDC counts many of the least urbanized regions as part of its stronghold. Coincidentally the more urbanized regions like Ashanti also account for a larger share of voters than the more rural regions. 
  • This translates to advantages for the NPP that the party can expect to continue to enjoy if historical voting patterns in this regard don’t change. 
  • That said, Greater Accra plays the role of a great equalizer in our electoral politics. The region leads the country in urbanisation (90.5%) and is classified by our Regional Competitive Index as a pure swing region with no advantages for either party. 
  • This gives the NDC their best shot at holding ground in the face of an urbanisation-driven electoral trend that will prove to be a hurdle for the party moving forward.
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