Ethnicity and Voting Behaviour in Nigeria




This paper tried to give a historical discourse about the relationship between ethnicity and voting behavior using Nigeria as its case study. Looking at the early evolution of Nigeria, after the amalgamation of both the northern and southern protectorates during the era of colonialism, one issue that has been mind boggling within the historic-socio-political discourse of Nigeria is the paradigm of ethnicity which many from the academia tend to see it as having a great impact in the way and manner elections are conducting which ultimately affects the voting pattern of the people as well. Using historic-descriptive method in which secondary data are mostly used in order to come up with this correlation between ethnicity and voting behaviour in Nigeria, the study noted that the former has significant impact in the way and manner political leaders are elected or recruited.

Key Words: Ethnicity, Voting behaviour, Elections, Nigeria, Ethnic, Elites.


Ethnicity has been said to have had significant influence in the voting behaviour of individuals. This is mostly recorded in Africa and some part of Asia, where people tend to vote those who will govern them based on certain pseudo-socio and cultural make up. Hence this study will try to study the causal relationship between ethnicity which will be the independent variable and voting behaviour which is said to be the dependent variable and Nigeria will be the country used as the case for this study.

According to scholars, ethnicity defines inequalities in our societies which is crucial to capture ethnic identities. Its attempts lead to influence the behaviors of others and the course of events in the organization in order to protect their self-interests, main priority is their own needs. For instance a voter would have to been of age, a citizen, had to be registered to vote and once their qualifications have been met. Then you have the honor to voting. Expanding on these ideas people assume that there candidate will just win even without leading their vote, which means if you do not vote don’t have the right to criticize your leaders. Political efficiency can be defined as one time influence and effectiveness on politics. So the lack of political efficiency is the thought that won’t make a difference. And to widen their own goals. Behaviour may be seen as political. Naming behavior as political, instead, usually implies a judgment that certain people are gaining something at the expense of others or the institution/organization as a whole. However a balance understanding of political behaviour and its consequence is needed. People seem to be self-centered and biased when crested actions as political behaviour. Employees may justify their own political behavior as defending legitimate rights or interests, yet call similar behavior by others ‘playing politics.’

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The study seeks to ask the following research questions:

  1. How has ethnicity been able to influence voting behaviour?
  2. Are political parties ethnically aligned so as to influence voting behaviour?


It is the desire of this study to be able to achieve the following objectives:

  1. To explain the causal relationship between ethnicity and voting behaviour pattern.
  2. To also know whether ethnic factors tend to affect voting pattern of individuals in the study.
  3. As an academic exercise it is the desire of the study to contribute to existing literature about the subject matter which is the causal relationship between ethnicity and voting behaviour.


In other to come up with a causal relationship between these two variables, the study will rely on secondary data through which secondary sources such as books, articles, journals, reports from other think tank centers like freedom house, afro-barometer etc. in order to explain the correlation between these two variables.


To examine the extent to which ethnicity can influence voting behavior in Nigerians the study has come up with the following hypothetical statements:

H1- Whether Ethnicity influences voting behavior (Thesis Statement)

H2- If it does not influence voting behavior (Anti-Thesis Statement)



Can be seen as synonyms of races because the usual idea is biological category inherited from generation to generation. Ethnicity is a basic form of identity, talking about were your ancestors came from and ethnicity can be seen as a cultural trade, believes and language, or a group of people who share a common history, language, culture, ethnicity is really culture component that people share and has been developed as identity over time. Also ethnicity refers to shared cultural practices that set apart one group of people from another.

Voting Behavior

According to ‘Juma’ (2011:22) explains voting behaviour as a set of attitudes and beliefs towards elections at the national as well as, at the local level.

They are basically three source political scientist look at in order to analyse why people or voter behave the way they do, why they vote the way they do and why they chose the parties that they do;

  • looking at the result of the election (seeing whose voting for what or women/men voting or generation voting for what)
  • survey work ahead
  • doing some studies of political socialization which is the process by which people gain their political attitudes, political opinions of growing up process and how you want to be the people you are
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The study will try to examine what other scholars have written about the two variables, i.e. Ethnicity and Voting behaviour.


Borrowing from Balliber and Wallerstein, who tried to examine the concept of ethnicity in their work regarding the theory of state formation, Bonila Silva, looked at the term ethnicity as a process where by one assert certain distinct attribute aimed at creating and achieveing a sense of communal way of life in the society.

While Barth F. sees ethnicity as a situation in which people that live in a distinct community tend to create a distinct identity that differentiates them from other categories of people in the society as well.

Horowitz, (1985) note that ethnicity is the core principle of politics within a state which either challenge or serve as a medium of cohesion amongst states in order to reduce the inherent tension within the international system.

According Horowitz, ethnicity exerts a strong direct impact on electoral behavior in ethnically-segmented societies, through generating a long-term psychological sense of party loyalty anchoring citizens to parties, where casting a vote becomes an expression of group identity. By implications, other social divisions become subsumed as secondary to ethnicity.


According to “Juma “(2011:22), the term voting behaviour, connotes a collection of attitudes, values and beliefs in which individuals of a given society have towards elections both at the local, national and international level.

While Harrop and Miller, using a constructivist paradigm, explained voting behaviour as a pattern of political participation mostly taking place in democratic societies where people react to certain laid down values, principles and beliefs how they choose their leaders. These set of beliefs could be based on age, sex, ethnicity, religion and education.


In order for this study to be able to explain the causal relationship between ethnicity and voting behaviour, the study will adopt the theory of constructivism in order to be able to study this synergy between both the independent and dependent variables. This theory tries to analyse events, issues and phenomena via a sociological perspective and socio-cultural vantage point.

Relating this theory to my study, since both variables tend to toe towards studying socio-cultural phenomena, the study would look at how this variants of ethnicity affects voting behaviour.

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This is the aspect of the study where the researcher will try to test his hypothesis in order to determine the degree of causality between his variables using relevant secondary data as well as information from think-tanks that can be able to measure his variables. After the analysis the researcher will be able to either vilify or corroborate his hypothesis.


This is the last phase of the study, where the researcher will be able to come out with a testable statement and conclusion about the findings of his research, make recommendations where necessary and also make suggestions for further study.

Drawing from the available data largely drawn from the reports of ‘Afro-barometer’ and ‘Freedom house’, there seem to be a causal relationship between ethnicity and voting behaviour in Nigeria. This is usually attributed to the diverse nature of the Nigerian society in which there are over 450 local languages, in which each ethnic group, wants a stake in the body polity. This ethnic divisions, played a latent role even in the composition of the various political parties in the country in which right from independence to date, none of the political parties actually, have a national outlook, but rather they are all structured and are operated towards ethnic and religious lines. Thus, with this type of party structures in the society, the ‘ethnic’ factor most often influenced, voter’s choice, because most Nigerians, tend to opt for candidates that represent their ethnic origin rather than vote based on merit, ability or to a candidate that would provide the needed dividends of good governance.


Allen, H. (2007), How do rules and institutions encourage vote buying, In Schaffer, (2007), The Causes and Consequences of Vote Buying, Lyinne Reiner Publishers, Colorado.

Brusco, M. et al. (2004), Vote Buying in Argentina, Latin American Research Review, vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 65-88.

Ibrahim, J. (2007), Nigeria’s 2007 Elections: The fitful Path to Democracy, Institute for Peace, Washington D.C.

Ifidon, (2003), Transition from Democracy in Nigeria: Toward a Pre-emptive Analysis, African Journal of Political Science, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 109-128.

Jega, A. (2007), Elections and the future of Democracy in Nigeria, NPSA, Lagos.

Michael, B. & Lewis, P. (2007), The Durability of Political Goods: Evidence from Nigeria’s New Democracy, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Michael B. (2007), Who Votes? Implications for new democracies, available at: accessed: 30th April, 2014.


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(275 words)