One of the most surprising findings from modeling the parliamentary race is the relative power of independent candidates to dramatically change electoral outcomes in a given constituency. Since the dawn of the 4th republic, no independent presidential candidate has been able to secure 1% of total votes cast. However, when you look across the 1,650 data points that represent electoral outcomes in parliamentary races since 1996, one sees multiple instances of independent candidates mounting successful challenges to the dominant party, and even in some rare instances going on to win their races. 

How come?

  • Presidential elections by design are shaped by political parties adopting national policy platforms that will have the broadest appeal to the largest share of the electorate across the length and breadth of the country. 

  • This requires building out a party apparatus that extends into nearly every locale within the country, and picking presidential candidates that can have that mass appeal and whip up support. To that end, Presidential campaigns work to have more of a national identity that is deeply tied to the party they represent. 

  • This is partly what makes it extremely difficult for an independent presidential candidate to break through. Without a party that voters can tie your candidacy to, it becomes really difficult to establish a strong brand in the minds of millions of voters. 

  • By contrast, parliamentary races are purely local affairs. The electorate in one constituency do not care for the candidates in another constituency. This localized focus results in a set of dynamics that enable independent candidates to mount powerful challenges and reshape the outcome of the elections, even if for one cycle only. 

  • There are two primary ways by which independent candidates have been able to reshape constituency level outcomes. 

  • The first is the type of independent candidate who is well known within a particular party but then decides to go rogue and run as an independent. The net result of this could mean the incumbent party loses the seat if the rogue candidate came from their ranks, and thus ended up splitting the vote. 

  • The second type of independent candidate is one who is not necessarily affiliated with a political party, but rather enjoys a broad spectrum of support from voters within the constituency. In this scenario, the candidate is able to depress the share of vote for both the incumbent party and its main opposition. This though doesn’t necessarily mean the candidate goes on to win the seat. 

  • In part 2 of this piece, we look at how the competitive profile of a constituency determines the kind of outcome to result from a strong independent challenge. 
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