The Social Embeddedness of Elections: Ghana’s 2016 and 2020 Campaigns

George M. Bob-Milliar and Jeffrey W. Paller


Research on electoral mobilization in Africa focuses on core versus swing voters, clientelistic linkages, and ethnic voting. This paper adds an important yet understudied addition to this scholarship: the social and institutional dynamics of electoral mobilization. Drawing on a dataset of campaign visits in Ghana’s 2016 and 2020 elections, Bob-Millar and Paller treat elections as an ongoing process, emphasizing the spatial targeting of campaign events and their ritualistic quality, as well as the social embeddedness of political parties in local constituencies. First, the authors find that a significant political learning process took place between 2016 and 2020 for candidates of the two major parties. Second, they note the importance of incumbency advantage – as opposed to ideological or demographic factors – in shaping campaign targeting, particularly the type of campaign visit. Third, they explain how political parties are socially embedded and rely on occupational groups like market associations and fisherfolk to mobilize voters. The paper concludes that research on election campaigns considers the social and institutional dynamics shaping political mobilization.

Keywords: Elections, campaigns, mobilization, social embeddedness, Ghana