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Not Too Young to Run but Not Old Enough to Lead: Age Dominance Orientation and preferred attributes of political leaders in Nigeria

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ABSTRACT Like in many African countries, there is a wide age gap between political leaders and the electorate in Nigeria. While the socio-political implications of this gap are a common subject of debate in the Nigerian political space, the possible factors perpetuating it are much less understood. Against the background of the recent passage of the Not-too-Young-To-Run legislative bill, our study investigates how voters' preferences for older leadership candidates compared with younger ones are associated with gerontocratic social orientations. We introduce the concept of Age Dominance Orientation (ADO), which refers to the degree to which individuals subscribe to a system of age-based social hierarchy, and we surveyed prospective voters to examine if and how ADO affects voters' choices. Our findings show that ADO positively predicts voters' preferences for older leaders after controlling for relevant confounding factors.
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Not Too Young to Run but Not Old Enough to Lead
Gerontocratic Social Orientations and Voters’ Preferences in Nigeria
Ridwan Bolaji Bello
Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods, University of Milan, Italy.
Charles Adedayo Ogunbode
Department of Psychosocial Science, Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen, Norway.
Olaide Abdul-Hameed Bankole
Centre for Public Policy Alternatives, Lagos, Nigeria.
Draft Version: September 2019
Like in many African countries, there is a wide age gap between political leaders and the
electorate in Nigeria. While the socio-political implications of this gap are a common subject
of debate in the Nigerian political space, the possible factors perpetuating it are much less
understood. Against the background of the recent passage of the Not-too-Young-To-Run
legislative bill, our study investigates how voters’ preferences for older leadership
candidates compared with younger ones are associated with gerontocratic social
orientations. We introduce the concept of Age Dominance Orientation (ADO), which refers
to the degree to which individuals subscribe to a system of age-based social hierarchy, and
we surveyed online prospective Nigerian voters to examine if and how ADO affects voters’
choices. Our findings show that ADO positively predicts voters’ preferences for older leaders
after controlling for relevant confounding factors.
Keywords: Age Dominance Orientation, Social Dominance Theory, Gerontocracy, Voting
Behaviour, Nigeria.
Corresponding author.
1. Introduction
Geriatric leaders are a prominent feature of governance in Africa. In 2016, the average age
of African presidents was 63 years, with nearly 1 in every 3 national leaders aged over 70
years old. In global terms, national leaders in Africa are among the oldest in the world, with
a median age ranking third highest across seven geopolitical regions. The same 2016 data
shows that African countries had more than half of the 25 oldest leaders in the world, but
only 2 of the 25 youngest. These figures are particularly astonishing when compared with
the continent’s demographic profile. With a population median age of 19.5 years, the age gap
between leaders and the populations they lead is larger for Africa than for any other
geopolitical region in the world (See Figures 1, 2 and 3 for an illustration of the age
distribution of leaders across countries and geopolitical regions in the world).
This imbalance between the ages of African leaders and their electorate has been widely
criticized in socio-political circles on the continent and internationally (see, e.g., Annan 2009;
Ibrahim 2014; Egbedi 2015; Mogae 2017). These critics argue that the phenomenon of
mostly geriatric leaders presiding over an African population, 70% of which is 30 years old
or younger (Gyimah-Brempong and Kimenyi 2013), could leave this dominant younger
generation feeling politically-excluded. Such perceptions of exclusion is a risk factor for
social and political tension and instability (Hilker and Fraser 2009; World Bank, 2018).
Moreover, this demographic imbalance has possible policy relevance, especially with regard
to government policies such as education funding, retirement laws, and pension reforms,
which have generational dimensions. Under-representation of younger generations in
government may create a misalignment between policymaking and the developmental needs
of the predominantly younger demographic.
Lately, there have been more concerted efforts to encourage younger Africans to assume
leadership positions on the continent, as evidenced by recent government transitions in Cote
d’Ivoire, Gambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. In 2017, the Nigerian government made a
major legislative change to promote greater participation of youths in governance by passing
a bill named ‘Not-Too-Young-To-Run’. The bill lowers the constitutional age limit of aspirants
permitted to run for office across all levels of governance: from 40 to 35 for President, 35 to
30 for Senators and Governors, and from 30 to 25 for the National and State Houses of
Assembly members (Tukur 2018; Omilana 2018). The bill was signed into law by the
country’s President in May 2018 after it had received the constitutionally-required approval
by legislators in 24 out of 36 States in the country (Tukur 2018; Omilana 2018).
The Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill was initially well-received by Nigerians, but public opinions
have become less decisive since the bill was passed. Particularly at the presidential level, the
prospect of young Nigerians ascending to the highest office has been evaluated with a
combination of tempered enthusiasm and outright skepticism among prospective voters
(See Gabriel 2018). Commonly expressed justifications for skepticism include young
people’s presumed naivety and inexperience with political leadership. An illustrative
example of how these justifications are deployed to dismiss the aspirations of younger
political candidates can be found in a recorded debate between a 47 year-old presidential
aspirant who has never held a political office and a 65-year old political veteran.
In this
debate, the veteran politician repeatedly derided the candidacy of the younger aspirant on
the grounds of his age and lack of political record, asking him at a point ‘do you think the
presidency is meant for people like you? Go and start from being a Councilor’.
This view
appears to be shared by some political analysts as documented in Gabriel (2018) who writes
While the young and ambitious contenders may have the strength and vigour to
push through with their aspirations, they clearly do not have the clout, experience
and deep pocket to withstand and subdue the more experienced, iron-fisted and
well-loaded opponents. A fact that political analysts have touted to be the major
reason the youths may not be anywhere close to actualising their dream of taking
over the political turf in 2019.
(Gabriel 2018)
In our view, inherent in these statements are perceptions that younger individuals do not
possess desirable presidential attributes such as older age (as opposed to youthfulness) and
prior political leadership experience. This is somewhat counterintuitive given historical
evidence that older and more experienced presidential aspirants do not necessarily deliver
more satisfactory political performance in Nigeria. Across all presidential elections held in
Nigeria since the return to democratic governance in 1999, the winners had previously
occupied prominent elected or administrative roles and were all over 50 years old (exact age
range is 54-73 years) at the time of their election. Yet, the performance of each of these
presidents has consistently resulted in disappointment and frustration among the public
(Lewis, Alemika and Bratton 2002; Lewis and Alemika 2005; Afrobarometer 2006). For
instance, a 2006 Afrobarometer survey found that public satisfaction with the performance
of then president (Olusegun Obasanjo) fell with each successive year, from 67% in 2000 to
only 28% in 2005 (Afrobarometer 2006: 4). In 2011, a national survey found that 6 months
after the election of, then incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, 55% of surveyed
Nigerians thought that “things in Nigeria were heading in the wrong direction” (IRI 2011: 5).
Most recently, a 2018 poll revealed that, only 40% down from 57% in 2017 of Nigerians
approve of the current president (Buharimeter 2018).
Based on the foregoing, we argue that perceptions of older age and prior political experience
as desirable attributes in a presidential candidate are influenced by cultural values and social
norms rather than objective evidence that these attributes make more effective presidents.
Particularly, we submit that voters’ perceptions of youthfulness or lack of political
experience as undesirable attributes in political leadership aspirants can be explained by
social norms that favor the dominance of older generations over younger ones.
The purpose
of this study is to investigate the veracity of these submissions.
In executing this study, we focus on the population of Nigerian voters with an online (social
media) presence. While this population is not necessarily representative of the entire
Nigerian electorate, this abstraction is nonetheless important. In many African countries, the
Internet has become the main platform for political discussion (UNESCO, 2019). As such,
online voters have become key actors in the formation of public opinion about the suitability
of leadership candidates. In the run-up to many elections on the continent, the prevalent
sentiments about leadership candidates among this category of voters can dominate the
public discourse and, quite possibly, sway electoral outcomes. As Odhiambo (2017) and
Freyburg and Garbe (2018) note, the prominence of this group of voters has encouraged
some incumbent and authoritarian governments desperate to get re-elected to turn off
Internet services during past elections. Voting behaviours among this category of voters is
thus deserving of special focus.
The rest of the article is structured as follows: in section 2, we review relevant empirical
literature, present theoretical support for our arguments, and state our research hypotheses.
In section 3, we describe our data collection and analytical procedures. Our findings are
presented in section 4 and section 5 concludes with a discussion of our findings and
comments about the implications and limitations of the study.
2. Theoretical framework and hypotheses
2.1. Literature review
Previous research on voting behavior can be broadly grouped into two major themes. One
theme is concerned with explaining the outcomes of past elections by analyzing how and
why voters make specific choices (as seen, for example, in Fair 1996; Marsh 2003; Youde
2005; Akarca and Tunsel 2007; Chatterjee et al. 2013; and De La Poza et al 2016). A second
theme focuses on understanding the dynamics of electoral behavior, emphasizing the nature
and sources of changes in voting patterns over time (See Prysby and Scavo 1993).
In the former research theme, some attention has been directed at the role of economic
factors as determinants of voting behavior. Economic voting describes a situation in which
voters make voting decisions based on their evaluation of the general state of the economy
or their individual economic wellbeing (Lewis-Beck and Paldam 2000). Many studies such
as Lewis-Beck (1997), Kimenyi and Romero (2008), Lewis-Beck and Nadeau (2011),
Lippényi et al (2013) have presented evidence showing that during elections, voters reward
incumbent governments for good economic performance and punish them during periods of
economic downturn. Some scholars have also studied how social norms affect voter turnout.
Coleman (2004), for instance, finds that the desire to conform to the social norm regarding
voting as a civic duty not only motivates people to vote, it also stimulates conformist
behavior among some voters when deciding which party to vote for. Funk (2005) finds that
social norms create incentives for signaling, in which people vote for the purpose of being
seen at the voting act. Another common observation is that voting decisions are affected by
social identities. For example, Lim, Barry-Goodman and Branham (2006) and Erdmann
(2007) find that party affiliation and voter alignment are significantly affected by ethnicity,
while Bratton and Van de Walle (1997); Ferree (2004, 2008); and Lindberg et al. (2008)
report that family lineages and religion also influence voting behavior.
Voter behavior is often analyzed using social psychological theories. For example, Major et
al. (2016) and Onraet et al. (2014) applied the Integrated Threat Theory to explain how
perceived intergroup threats predict intergroup prejudice, bias and voting outcomes in the
United States. Using Social Dominance Theory (SDT), Van Hiel and Mervielde (2002)
analyzed conservative beliefs and political preferences among Europeans, while Crowson
and Brandes (2017) studied intentions among U.S. voters to vote either Hilary Clinton or
Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Abrams and Grant (2012) and Grant et al. (2017)
employed Social Identity and Common In-Group Identity theories to explain why young
people supported Scottish separatist movements in the 1980s and during the 2014 Scottish
independence referendum. Vyver et al. (2018) employed the Motivated Social Cognition
theory to examine the relationship between political ideology in particular, conservatism
and voting decisions in the British EU referendum. Having reviewed these various theories,
we consider SDT to be most appropriate for understanding the motivations behind voters’
perceptions of youthfulness and lack of prior political involvement as undesirable qualities
for political leadership aspirants in Nigeria.
2.2. Social Dominance Theory
According to SDT, human societies often organize into group-based social hierarchies in
which at least one group enjoys greater social status and power than other groups (Pratto,
Sidanius and Levin 2006, 271). Building on Van den Berghe’s (1978) taxonomy of social
categories, this theory observes that:
…human group-based social hierarchies consist of three distinctly different
stratification systems: (1) an age system, in which adults and middle-age people
have disproportionate social power over children and younger adults; (2) a gender
or patriarchal system in which men have disproportionate social and political power
compared to women; and (3) an arbitrary-set system in which socially constructed
categories are hierarchically arranged. These arbitrary sets may be constructed to
associate power and legitimacy with social categories like “race,” caste, ethnicity,
nationality, social class, religion, or any other group distinction that human
interaction is capable of constructing.
(Sidanius and Pratto 2012: 418)
Members of the dominant social groups in these group-based hierarchies tend to enjoy a
disproportionate share of ‘positive social value’, such as political power, wealth, access to
good housing, healthcare, leisure, and education, while ‘negative social value’ is
disproportionately ascribed to members of subordinate groups in the form of substandard
housing, underemployment, dangerous and distasteful work, stigmatization, and vilification
(Pratto, Sidanius and Levin 2006, 272). The degree, severity, and definitional bases of group-
based hierarchies may vary within and across societies over time.
Examined through the lens of SDT, we submit that Nigeria’s gerontocratic culture casts older
adults as a dominant social group and younger adults as the subordinate group. Therefore,
we propose that the perception of younger presidential aspirants as ‘not old or experienced
enough to lead’ is a manifestation of the association of political power with the dominant
group of older people as opposed to the subordinate group of younger individuals. To test
this proposition, we employ measures adapted from the Social Dominance literature. Social
Dominance Orientation is a term coined by (Pratto et al. 1994) to describe people’s degree
of preference for inequality among social groups. Accordingly, we examined the degree to
which perceptions and evaluations of presidential aspirants from different age groups are
influenced by the degree of individual voters’ subscription to the socio-cultural norms
prescribing the dominance of older people over younger ones; henceforth termed Age
Dominance Orientation (ADO).
2.3. Research hypotheses
We tested two hypotheses. First, we hypothesized that ADO is positively linked to the degree
to which individuals perceive older age to be a desirable quality in presidential aspirants
(H1). In order words, we expect that the greater the extent to which respondents favor the
social norm of younger generations showing deference to older generations, the stronger
their preference for older candidates over younger ones. Second, while objections to the
presidential aspirations of younger Nigerians have often been based on perceived political
inexperience of this demographic, we propose that this perceived inexperience is only a
mediating factor in the relationship between voters’ subscription to age-based social
hierarchies and their preference for older aspirants (H2). In other words, the link between
ADO and preference for older political aspirants varies as a function of the perceived political
experience of the aspirants.
3. Methods
3.1. Participants and procedure
We collected data in early 2018 using an online survey. The survey was advertised to social
media users in Nigeria on multiple internet platforms and participants were encouraged to
share the questionnaire link among their networks. In total, we got responses from 379 valid
participants. Our sample comprised 246 males (65.78%), 128 females (34.22%) and 5
individuals who preferred not to state their gender (1.32%). Participants’ mean age was
31.37 years (SD = 8.58, Min = 17, Max = 72). Although the minimum voting age in Nigeria is
18 years old, the lower age limit of participants admitted into our sample was 17. This is
because 17-year-olds at the time of the survey would have been eligible to vote by the next
round of elections in 2019. As expected, the sample had a high level of education, with
approximately 81% of participants reportedly possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Reported employment status was more evenly distributed across the different categories
(Unemployed = 18.7%, Part-time employed = 22.7%, Full-time student = 19.5%, Full-time
employed = 39.1%).
The questionnaire was split into four sections. The first section contained questions
regarding respondent’s awareness of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill as well as their
perceptions about the age and political experience of presidential aspirants. In the second
section, we presented a simulated electoral decision in which we asked respondents to pick
a most preferred choice between four hypothetical presidential candidates whose profiles
had been modelled as a combination of categories of age and political experience. Section
three comprised questions measuring ADO and section four contained demographic
3.2. Measures
We adopt a stated preference approach in which we use Likert-type scales to measure voters’
responses on how well they agree or disagree with statements about age and political
experience of hypothetical presidential aspirants as well as ADO. Responses were recorded
on a 4-point Likert scale. Thus, there was no middle option like ‘neutral or ‘undecided’. The
implication is that for each question, respondents had to indicate different degrees of ‘agree
or disagree. There are extensive debates on the merits and demerits of this forced-choice
approach (See Presser and Schuman 1980; Bishop 1987; and Moors 2008 for reviews). We
chose to eliminate the middle option because, in addition to preventing central-tendency
bias, this approach more closely mimics the choices that voters face in reality. In real-world
polls, people who choose to vote do not have the option of being ‘neutral’ or ‘undecided’
about candidates’ choices. Once they go to the polls, they must make a choice, one which is
ultimately a manifestation of their perceptions about the candidates. We however recognize
that some voters may choose to opt out of voting altogether, and for this reason, we included
a ‘prefer not to say option for each question. Details of the measures used in this study are
provided below.
Perceptions about age of presidential aspirants (AGEP) was measured with four items,
namely: (1) Generally, older candidates are more capable of leading Nigeria more effectively
than younger candidates, (2) An average 70 year old Nigerian can still lead the country
effectively, (3) An average 35 40 year old Nigeria is too young to be Nigeria’s President,
and (4) if the option of an older candidate is available in the 2019 Presidential elections, I
will not choose a 35-40 year old candidate. Items 1 to 3 captures perception about
effectiveness, while item 4 captures preference. Factor analysis and Cronbach’s Alpha
suggest that these items loaded reliably into a single latent factor (Eigenvalue = 2.47,
Variance explained = 61.75%, α = 0.78). Therefore responses to all four items were averaged
and combined into a single composite variable (M = 1.87, SD = 0.65), where responses were
recorded on a scale from 1 = strongly disagree to 4 = strongly agree.
Perceptions about political experience of presidential aspirants (POLEXP) was measured with
four items, namely: (1) The more prior experience in politics presidential candidates have,
the more capable they will be to lead Nigeria effectively, (2) Before running for president, an
individual should have, in the past, held an elected office at a lower level of government, (3)
An average 35 40 year old Nigerian does not have enough political experience needed to
lead Nigeria, and (4) If the option of a career politician is available in the 2019 Presidential
elections, I will not choose a political newcomer. Factor analysis and Cronbach’s Alpha
indicate that these items loaded reliably onto a single latent factor (Eigenvalue = 2.47,
Variance explained = 61.84%, α = 0.78). Responses to the four items were averaged and
combined into a single composite variable (M = 2.36, SD = 0.74) and responses were
recorded on a scale from 1 = strongly disagree to 4 = strongly agree.
To measure ADO, we adapted items from the Social Dominance Orientation scale (Pratto et
al. 1994). Our adapted ADO measure comprised 6 items that used language specific to age
groups: (1) the older a person is, the more deserving s/he is of respect and submission from
younger persons, (2) An ideal society should have older generations of people lead while
younger generations follow, (3) to get ahead in life, youths should bide their time and wait
for the older generations to give them a chance, (4) Older people should not, in any way,
dominate younger people solely by virtue of their age difference, (5) if younger people do
not have to defer to older people all the time, we would have fewer problems in Nigeria, and
(6) in an ideal society, people of all ages and generations should have equal social standing.
Items (4) to (6) were reverse-coded, before the items were averaged and combined into a
single variable (M = 2.02, SD = 0.68, Eigenvalue = 2.22, Variance explained = 36.93%, α =
0.63, response scale varied from 1 = strongly oppose to 5 = strongly favor).
We collected further information about respondent’s degree of satisfaction with the
economy (how satisfied are you with the current state of Nigeria’s economy?) and degree of
satisfaction with the general performance of the incumbent president (how satisfied are you
with the overall performance of the current President?). Finally, we collected demographic
information including age, gender, education, income and employment status. Table 1 shows
a summary of the variables used in the analysis.
3.3. The Model
We modelled respondents’ perceptions of aspirants’ age as a function of demographic
attributes, perceptions of aspirants’ political experience and ADO. In addition to
demographic characteristics, we controlled for other factors that have been found to
influence voters’ perceptions and decisions in previous studies, specifically (dis)satisfaction
with the current economic situation (Lewis-Beck and Paldam 2000; Rogers 2014) and
general assessment of the performance of the incumbent President (Prysby and Scavo 1993;
Akarca and Tunsel 2007). The predictor variables were sequentially entered into the
regression model beginning with demographic attributes and other control variables,
followed by ADO, and finally POLEXP. We tested the hypothesized mediating role of POLEXP
in the link between ADO and AGEP using the PROCESS macro for regression-based
estimation of mediation, moderation and conditional process (Hayes 2013).
4. Results
In preliminary analyses, we checked for correlation between the three variables of interest:
perception about candidates’ age (AGEP), perception about candidates’ political experience
(POLEXP) and age dominance orientation (ADO). We observed that AGEP was moderately
correlated with POLEXP and ADO, while POLEXP was only weakly correlated with ADO
(Table 2).
Subsequently, we estimated the regression models and the results are presented in Table 3.
In support of our first hypothesis, we found that ADO had a positive significant relationship
with perception of aspirants’ age. In other words, on average, respondents with higher ADO
also reported greater belief that older aspirants are better suited to the presidency than
younger ones. Further, ADO positively predicted perceptions of aspirants’ political
experience (B = .24, SE = .05, p<.001, 95% CI: [.14, .35], N = 370). In support of our second
hypothesis, perceptions of aspirants’ political experience significantly mediated an indirect
relationship between ADO and perceptions of political aspirants age (B = .07, SE = .02,
95%CI: [.04, .11], N = 370).
This implies that the effect of ADO on voters’ preferences for
older leadership aspirants compared to younger ones varies as a function of voters’
preferences for aspirants with greater political experience.
Our results reveal other insights. We find that respondents’ age has a small but statistically
significant effect on their perception of aspirants’ age. On average, older respondents
preferred older leadership aspirants to younger ones. In contrast, gender and possession of
a university degree has a modest but negative effect on the outcome variable (Figure 4). In
other words, males (relative to females) as well as individuals with (compared to those
without) a university degree preferred younger political aspirants to older ones. We find
large positive effect of satisfaction with the performance of the economy (EconSatis) on the
outcome variable (Figure 4). That is, respondents who are satisfied with the current state of
the economy, compared to those who are neutral about it, are more likely to perceive older
candidates as more suitable for the presidency than younger ones. The reverse is however
not true for disappointment with the performance of the economy (EconDisapp). The large
size of the coefficient of the EconSatis variable is consistent with earlier findings in the
literature which propose that voters’ (dis)approval of the current state of the economy is a
key predictor of their electoral decisions. Finally, there is no evidence that satisfaction
(PresidSatis) or disappointment (PresidDisapp) with the performance of the incumbent
president significantly predicts voters’ perception of aspirants’ age. Altogether, our model
explains 50% of the variation in the dependent variable.
5. Discussion
In this study, we investigated determinants of voters’ preferences for political leadership
aspirants, particularly regarding aspirants’ age. We proposed that voters’ preferences are
influenced by gerontocratic social attitudes which we term Age Dominance Orientation
(ADO). We also proposed that the relationship between ADO and age-based preferences for
political leadership aspirants is mediated by perceptions of aspirants’ political experience.
Our hypotheses were supported by the data as we observed that participants with greater
levels of ADO also demonstrated greater preference for older political candidates compared
with younger ones. Further, the link between ADO and preference for older political
leadership aspirants was significantly mediated by perceptions of candidates’ political
experience. These findings suggest that the persistence of geriatric leaders in Nigeria, and
plausibly other African countries, may be explained at least in part by the degree of
endorsement of gerontocratic social attitudes among the electorate.
Our results have a clear policy relevance. Against the backdrop of the passage of the Not-
Too-Young-To-Run bill in Nigeria, our findings suggest that legislation aimed at enabling
younger leaders to emerge may fail to achieve its objectives in the absence of more direct
engagement with opposing social norms and attitudes such as ADO. Purposive attempts at
cultural re-orientation are necessary to achieve the desired generational shift in the
distribution of Nigerian leaders. Our results also make an important contribution to the
literature on electoral behavior, especially in Africa. As stated in section 2, the current body
of literature has already highlighted social identities familial, ethnic and religious identities
as some social factors that determine voters’ choices. Our study extends this literature by
identifying gerontocratic social attitudes as another channel through which social factors
and institutions influence voting behavior and electoral outcomes. Considering that these
gerontocratic systems of social hierarchy often transcend family, ethnic, and religious
boundaries in many African countries, we believe that this finding substantially advances the
quest to understand how African voters choose their leaders.
5.1 Implications
It is important to note that a preference for older leaders is neither irrational, nor inherently
negative or undesirable.
In Nigeria, as in many traditional societies across the word, older
members of the community are accorded respect based on the presumed depth of their life
experience, knowledge and wisdom (Omobowale 2014). Such qualities are widely believed
to be important for ensuring societal survival and development. It could also be argued that
leaders naturally grow older as they garner more years of experience and voters’ preference
for older leadership aspirants may simply reflect the value placed on political experience.
Indeed, Nigerian voters’ heuristic adoption of age as an indicator of the prospective
competence of political leadership aspirants is arguably rationally grounded in the socio-
cultural expectations of knowledge, wisdom and dignified conduct among elderly
community members. However, this practice can only be considered rational if a level of
congruence is maintained between age and performance in leadership positions.
The key issue highlighted by our findings is that the preference for older aspirants is not
simply rooted in voters’ judgments of aspirants’ merit. Rather, the seeming preference for
older aspirants is scaffolded by shared cultural norms that disproportionately ascribe value
to the aspirations of older candidates compared with younger ones regardless of their
objective merit. This reification of gerontocracy over meritocracy directly undermines
opportunities for the emergence of capable young leaders and constrains the full expression
of Nigeria’s democratic and development potential. Our argument is echoed by Adebayo
(2018) who claims, based on observations in South Africa, that the gerontocratic political
culture of post-colonial African nations is silencing the young and excluding African youth
from mainstream political structures. African youth lacking the extensive social connections,
financial resources and de facto cultural capital of geriatric political veterans are forced to
either acquiesce to the impositions of the mainstream political system or seek to advance
their interests through non-traditional, and often disruptive, political means (Adebayo
The youth have been widely branded as politically apathetic and some of the previously
identified predictors of low electoral turn-out among young African voters include cynical
attitudes toward mainstream politics, financial barriers and disinterest in politics
(Musarurwa 2018; Oyedemi and Mahlatji 2016; Tracey 2016). In addition to previous
research linking age with electoral turn-out and interest in politics (e.g., Goerres 2007), our
data show that age is also positively linked with a preference for older rather than younger
leadership aspirants. This suggests that older voters are not only more likely to participate
actively in politics, they may also be more likely to vote in ways that perpetuate the political
norms that sustain the disenfranchisement of younger voters. Therefore, efforts to reorder
the age distribution of political leaders in Africa are faced with a double challenge. This
includes enabling the emergence of young leadership aspirants that can gain broad public
trust and support, and mobilizing younger voters to participate in electoral processes in
adequate numbers to ensure a proportionate representation of the youth in mainstream
Many voters appear to perceive the election of youth to political leadership positions as
risky. Young leaders are presumed to lack adequate experience and ‘maturity’ to handle
sensitive political issues (see Adebayo 2018). Our data shows that individuals with a greater
level of satisfaction with the current economic situation, in other words people who benefit
from the status quo, and females a demographic with plausibly high levels of risk aversion
(see Charness and Gneezy 2012), exhibit a stronger preference for older political candidates.
Considering that individuals who are self-reportedly satisfied with the current economic
situation generally represent a small minority of the population, the main implication of
these results is that increased attention needs to be directed at tackling the sources of doubt
about the competence of young leaders. As discussed in the introduction to this article, the
presumed superior performance of older leaders is not borne out by the historical record of
Nigerian presidents. Therefore, public interrogations of the normative and cultural
construction of political leadership roles as the preserve of gerontocrats could help pave way
for a change in social attitudes toward young leadership aspirants.
5.2 Limitations and future directions
Further research employing a representative Nigerian sample is necessary to substantiate
our findings. Given that the participants in this study were recruited through an online
survey, the attitudes reported here are unlikely to be entirely representative of Nigerian
voters in general. Internet use significantly affects political attitudes and participation (e.g.,
Hirzalla et al 2011), and the participants who chose to participate in our study may have
different attitudes from those who did not participate. Therefore, our findings may reflect a
degree of selection bias.
In addition, ADO may not be the only relevant factor that influences voters’ preferences in
Nigeria. Research suggests that electoral choices are influenced by voters’ party
identification (Irvine 1982; Dassonneville 2016) and orientation on contentious public
policy issues such as tax and government spending, abortion laws, gay rights, immigration
and environmental protection (Prysby and Scavo 1993; Smith 2009). We excluded party
identification in our analyses because party lines in Nigeria are not strictly defined;
candidates often switch between opposing political parties and voters’ preferences change
just as frequently. We also excluded public policy orientation because we have no evidence
that elections in Nigeria are strongly issue-based or that opinions on public policy issues
figure prominently in Nigerian voters’ evaluation of political leadership candidates.
Nonetheless, these omissions are based on the absence of relevant data rather than the
presence of disconfirming evidence. In subsequent research, it would be worthwhile to
explore the importance of ADO as an influence on voters’ preferences considering
contextually-relevant differences in political identification and individual opinions on salient
public policies.
6. Conclusion
Regardless of its limitations, this study contributes to the development of an understanding
of Nigerian voters’ perceptions of the desirable attributes of political leadership aspirants
and the factors underlying these perceptions. This is an especially focal topic considering the
recent passage of the not-too-young-to-run bill. Voters perceptions and motivations are
worthy of investigation because democratic governance rests on the consent of voters (The
Economist 2017), and voters’ perceptions of aspirants’ personal attributes are strong
determinants of who they choose to give their consent to (Prysby and Scavo 1993). Even
when voters make electoral choices based on other criteria (e.g., party affiliation), they often
rationalize these choices in terms of the personal qualities of the candidate (Marsh 2003).
Our findings suggest that age-based preferences for political leadership candidates may be
fundamentally driven by age dominance orientation, and the associated gerontocratic
system of social hierarchy, even if these preferences are overtly justified by appeals to the
value of leadership experience. Therefore, to achieve the objective of getting younger citizens
into mainstream political leadership roles, as intended by the passage of the Not-Too-Young-
To-Run bill, it is crucial to engage with the cultural norms and values that directly undermine
the emergence of young leadership aspirants.
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Figure 1: Age (in years) of leaders and the populations they lead across geopolitical regions. Data source: ChartsBin 2018
Figure 2: In 2016, 13 of the 25 oldest leaders in the world were from African countries.Data source: ChartsBin 2018
010 20 30 40 50 60 70
Middle East
Latin & Central America
Canada & The US
Ages of leaders vs population
Median age of population Median age of leaders
Sudan (Omar al-Bashir)
Seychelles (James Michel)
DR Congo (Denis Nguesso)
Côte d'Ivoire (Daniel…
Bahamas (Perry Christie)
Mali (Modibo Keita)
Angola (Eduardo dos…
Nigeria (Muhammadu…
Swaziland (Barnabas…
South Africa (Jacob Zuma)
Kuwait (Jaber Al-Sabah)
Tonga (ʻAkilisi Pohiva)
Malawi (Peter Mutharika)
Uruguay (Tabaré Vázquez)
Oman (Qaboos bin Said)
Nepal (Sushil Koirala)
Korea, DPR (Pak Pong-ju)
Jordan (Abdullah Ensour)
Liberia (Ellen Johnson…
Saudi Arabia (Salman Al…
Azerbaijan (Artur Rasizade)
Bahrain (Khalifa bin Khalifa)
Cuba (Raúl Castro)
Mauritius (Anerood…
Zimbabwe (Robert…
Age (in years) of the 25 oldest leaders in the world
African country
Figure 3: In 2016, only 2 of the 25 youngest leaders in the world were from African countries. Data source: ChartsBin
Table 1. Descriptive statistics
Categorical variables
374 (100%)
246 (65.78%)
128 (34.22%)
University degree
379 (100%)
307 (81%)
72 (19%)
Employment status
378 (100%)
234 (61.90%)
144 (38.10%)
Satisfaction with performance of
current president
377 (100%)
41 (10.88%)
61 (16.18%)
275 (72.94%)
Satisfaction with performance of the
377 (100%)
27 (7.16%)
39 (10.34%)
311 (82.49%)
Continuous variables
Mean (SD)
Respondent’s age
The UK (David Cameron)
Denmark (Thorning-…
Croatia (Zoran Milanović)
Mexico (Enrique Peña…
Namibia (Saara…
The Netherlands (Mark…
Antigua & Barbuda…
Eq. Guinea (Vicente E. Tomi)
Honduras (Juan O.…
Mongolia (Chimediin…
Macedonia (Nikola…
Serbia (Aleksandar Vučić)
Czech Rep. (Bohuslav…
Romania (Victor Ponta)
Dominica (Roosevelt Skerrit)
Luxembourg (Xavier Bettel)
Ukraine (Arseniy Yatsenyuk)
Malta (Joseph Muscat)
Greece (Alexis Tsipras)
Iceland (Sigmundur…
Belgium (Charles Michel)
Italy (Matteo Renzi)
Moldova (Chiril Gaburici)
Estonia (Taavi Rõivas)
Georgia (Irakli Garibashvili)
Age (in years) of the 25 youngest leaders
African country
Perceptions about
candidate’s age (AGEP)
Perceptions about
candidate’s political
experience (POLEXP)
Age dominance orientation
Table 2. Pairwise zero-order inter-correlations among the measured variables. Source: Authors’ calculation.
1. Perception about candidate’s age (AGEP)
2. Perception about candidate’s political experience (POLEXP)
3. Age Dominance Orientation (ADO)
Values in bold face are significant at p<.05 (N = 379).
Table 3: Regression estimates with standard errors in parentheses. Source: Authors’ calculation.
Perception of aspirant’s age (AGEP)
Older aspirants are preferred to younger ones
Model 1
Model 2
Model 3
Respondent’s age
Gender (vs female)
Employed (vs unemployed)
University degree (vs no degree)
Satisfied with president’s performance (vs neutral)
Disappointed with president’s performance (vs neutral)
Satisfied with economy’s performance (vs neutral)
Disappointed with economy’s performance (vs neutral)
Age Dominance Orientation (ADO)
Perception of aspirant’s political experience (POLEXP)
R2 (Adj)
†p<.10, *p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001. N = 370
Figure 4: The determinants of perceptions of leadership aspirants’ age. The coefficient of each determinant is
represented by a diamond marker and the spikes are the 95% confidence interval. Note: the values of the dependent
variable range from 0 to 4.
A recording of this debate can be found at
A ‘Councilor is the lowest political office in Nigeria.
In many Nigerian cultures, it is a core social value for younger individuals to ‘show respect’ or defer to older ones.
This practice is demonstrated in different ways, including greeting gestures and salutations. The dimension of
‘showing respect’ that is most relevant to this study is the expectation that younger persons show subservience and
deference to older individuals.
A copy of the study’s questionnaire can be found here.
We chose the 35-40 age bracket because this is the age bracket that has just been constitutionally permitted to run
for office by the Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill.
The estimated indirect effect of ADO on perceptions of political aspirants’ age is based on 1000 bias-corrected
bootstrap resamples.
We must also emphasize that our argument is not that younger aspirants make better leaders, and we point to a
number of relatively young African leaders whose leadership records were uninspiring e.g. Samuel Doe (Liberia),
Yayah Jammeh (Gambia), and Moussa Camara (Guinea) to illustrate this point.
-.5 0.5 1
University Degree
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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