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Are Muslims less democratic? Islam and turnout in sub-Saharan Africa

Michael Herrmann
Universität Konstanz
Michael Herrmann
Universität Konstanz
Open Panel

Abstract

Islam has been repeatedly shown to correlate negatively with democracy. This paper examines the effect of religious denomination on democracy at the individual level, comparing turnout levels among Christians, Muslims and other religious groups in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa provides a unique opportunity for studying the role of religion on democratic behaviour (a) because of its religious diversity (b) because neither Islam nor Christianity are indigenous to this region, both appearing rather late on the scene and at about the same time thus minimizing potential asymmetries in consolidation processes, and (c) because African people are highly religious. Using data from the 2008 Afrobarometer survey, the study compares turnout levels in a sample of over 27.000 respondents from 20 different countries. A turnout gap is found neither between Muslims and Christians nor between Muslim women and Christian women (despite a strong overall gender gap in turnout). Orthodox Christians and members of alternative Christian denominations show the lowest turnout levels. The study contends that, if Islam suffers from a democracy deficit, it does not seem to travel easily into areas outside the Islamic heartland.