Accountability or Representation? How Electoral Systems Promote Public Trust in African Legislatures



Elections serve as instruments of democracy, but they do so differently in various parts of the world. This article focuses on the democratizing role of elections in 16 sub-Saharan African countries represented in Afrobarometer survey data. It traces confidence in legislative institutions to whether a citizen perceives competitive elections to produce accountability and/or representation. The analysis shows that elections function differently depending on the nature of legislative institutions. Majoritarian electoral systems promote a sense of citizen control over policymakers (i.e., accountability) whereas proportional representation (PR) systems increase the perception of inclusion across a society's factions (i.e., representation). Because sub-Saharan African citizens typically prioritize representation rather than accountability when evaluating their legislative institutions, controlling for other influences, PR systems are much better at boosting public trust in the region. These findings have important implications for democratic development in Africa.