Expressive Voting in Autocracies: A Theory of Non-Economic Participation with Evidence from Cameroon

Expressive Voting in Autocracies: A Theory of Non-Economic Participation with Evidence from Cameroon

by Natalie Wenzell Letsa, University of Oklahoma

Why do people vote in autocratic elections? Until now, most answers to this question have argued that people vote because they expect a material reward, such as patronage or a direct transfer via vote-buying, or as a way of rewarding the regime for its economic performance. I argue that citizens also vote for different non-economic, expressive reasons, such as a sense of civic duty or a desire to improve the democratic process. I present data from an original quasi-national public-opinion survey conducted in Cameroon, which shows that expressive reasons for voting can explain more variation in voting behavior than economic reasons. These different motivations challenge the implications of existing models of democratization by explaining how some of the poorest electoral autocracies have withstood decades of economic stagnation.