Split-ticket voting and its influence on Nigeria's elections

Feb 08, 2023|Stears Explains

Nigerians go to vote for different sets of leaders on 25 February (presidential and national assembly) and 11 March (governor and state house of assembly) 2023.

Some of the permutations involve the strength of the parties across positions and whether down-ballot (below presidential elections) candidates can help influence support for a party on a national scale.

This is why it is worth understanding this practice, its impact on Nigerian politics in the past, and what it means for the coming elections.

What is split-ticket voting

Split ticket voting is when a voter votes for candidates from different political parties when they cast their ballot for multiple offices during the same election.

In a situation like Nigeria, when there are multiple elections on two different days, a voter votes for a different party in the different elections.

For example, let us assume there are candidates from five political parties (A, B, C, D and E) vying for five elective positions—presidential, senatorial, house of representatives, gubernatorial and state house of assembly. A voter might go to the polls supporting the presidential candidate from Party A but feel confused about their senatorial candidate. They might also feel very drawn to the gubernatorial candidate for Party C and inspired by the messaging of the state house of assembly candidate from Party E. As a result, when they cast their vote, they may vote for individual candidates (split ticket) instead of a single party (straight ticket).

Split ticket voting is perfectly legal because there are no requirements or guidelines for voters to vote for the same party in different elections.

Has split ticket voting occurred in Nigeria?

Yes! In fact, Nigeria’s Fourth Republic is littered with examples of voters supporting different candidates for different sets of elections.

Examples of split-ticket voting

In 1999, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)’s Olusegun Obasanjo won the presidential election, the votes in 26 states and the FCT. However, the then All People’s Party (APP) clinched the governorship election in some of the states he won (Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kogi and Kwara).  

This trend, where voters split their tickets, picked up pace in 2003 when Muhammadu Buhari began his 12-year quest for the presidency. During this election, he flipped Bauchi and Katsina states to his column, despite the voters returning PDP governors in those states.

This split-ticket voting trend continued in 2011. Buhari won the presidential vote in 12 states despite his party losing the governorship elections in eight of them—Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Niger.

During Buhari’s eventual successful bid for the presidency in 2015, he was able to lend his personal popularity to that of the various candidates from the former parties that formed the All Progressives' Congress (APC).

This led to a unique situation where candidates of the APC swept presidential and governorship votes in 11 states—Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kwara, Niger and Sokoto. This momentum played a part in supporting the APC's success nationwide.

Why split-ticket voting occurs in Nigeria?

This situation is not unique to Nigeria. A memorable example is Joe Biden winning the presidential vote in Georgia despite the state being governed by a republican or an opposition party member. But several reasons explain the unique nature of Nigerian politics in leading to this becoming more common.

Political parties often lack ideology

Most politicians see elections as a route to political power, with political parties simply being vehicles to do so. This is why defections are fairly common in Nigeria’s political structure.

It can be seen among some of the frontrunners for president with Atiku having vied for the presidency under three different parties—the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2007, the primaries of the APC in 2015 and the PDP in 2019 and 2023.

Similarly, Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) was also a contestant in the 2015 APC primaries and the 2019 PDP primaries before pitching his tent with the NNPP. Peter Obi began 2022 as an expected candidate for the PDP and defected to the Labour Party to actualise his presidential ambition.  

The different parties mentioned have not shared similar plans or manifestos—the APC was a former member of Socialist International, demonstrating its purported liberal bias.

In contrast, the PDP has often been associated with more conservative policies. As a result, politicians have often found it convenient to move across board when it is easier to get elected that way. 

Identity politics

A major factor in Nigerian politics is the prevailing dominance of identity playing an outsized role. This often comes across through ethnicity and religion.

This means that candidates are likely to associate with parties that are stronger in their home bases to try and win the elections rather than stick to parties that they associate with.

For example, the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) controlled the governorships in the South West after the 1999 elections. It retained its influence to varying degrees while it changed to the Action Congress and then the ACN before becoming a major part of the merger that produced the APC. Similarly, the APP was also very influential in the North West during the 1999 elections.

More recently, the PDP has been successful in maintaining a stronghold in the South East and South South, which has played a part in candidates defecting to or from the party. A particularly strong example is APGA, which has produced the last three governors of Anambra State. Despite this fact, the first of these three, Peter Obi, has since moved to the PDP and Labour Party, while the incumbent, Charles Soludo, was a former member and governorship aspirant under the PDP.

How will split ticket voting influence the 2023 elections?

A major question in people's minds ahead of the upcoming elections has been if Peter Obi’s momentum will translate into support for several down-ballot candidates in the northern parts of the country.

Similarly, a lot has been made of the ‘structure’, which has often been used to determine the presence of established politicians and political operatives.

But in an election with many variables and uncertain elements—the impact of technological innovations and an upsurge of first-time registered voters—there might be another change in Nigeria’s political landscape.

Where else?