skip to main content
In Busy Election Year, African Leaders Enjoyed High Approval

In Busy Election Year, African Leaders Enjoyed High Approval

by Magali Rheault and Justin McCarthy

Story Highlights

  • High approval ratings help presidential incumbents keep office
  • Leadership approval highest in Botswana, lowest in DRC
  • Those who say job market is good are more likely to approve

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Majorities in 21 of the 28 African countries that Gallup surveyed in 2015 -- a year marked by elections across the continent -- said they approved of the job performance of their respective nation's president. Ratings were highest in Botswana, Burkina Faso and Kenya, where roughly four in five said they approved. Approval was lowest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (28%) and Mauritania (32%).

Presidential Approval Ratings in Africa, 2015
  Approve Most recent election/Outcome
Botswana -- Ian Khama 82 In office since 2008
Burkina Faso -- Michel Kafando+* 80 Could not run in 2015 election
Kenya -- Uhuru Kenyatta 79 In office since 2013
Mozambique -- Filipe Nyusi 74 In office since 2015
Cameroon -- Paul Biya 72 In office since 1982
Niger -- Mahamadou Issoufou 69 Re-elected in February-March 2016
Ivory Coast -- Alassane Ouattara 68 Re-elected in 2015
Uganda -- Yoweri Museveni 67 Re-elected in February 2016
Nigeria -- Muhammadu Buhari 67 Elected March 2015; survey was fielded in June-July 2015
Tanzania -- Jakaya Kikwete* 64 Could not run in 2015 election
Mali -- Ibrahim Boubacar Keita 61 In office since 2013
Sierra Leone -- Ernest Bai Koroma 60 In office since 2007
Republic of the Congo -- Denis Sassou Nguesso 59 Re-elected in March 2016
Senegal -- Macky Sall 57 In office since 2012
Togo -- Faure Gnassingbé 56 Re-elected in 2015
Guinea -- Alpha Condé 55 Re-elected in 2015
Malawi -- Peter Mutharika 55 In office since 2014
Zimbabwe -- Robert Mugabe 53 In office since 1980 as prime minister, and as president since 1987
Chad -- Idriss Déby 52 Re-elected in April 2016
Madagascar -- Hery Rajaonarimampianina 52 In office since 2014
Benin -- Thomas Boni Yayi* 51 Could not run in February 2016 election
Zambia -- Edgar Lungu 49 In office since January 2015; new election scheduled for August 2016
South Africa -- Jacob Zuma 45 General elections in August 2016
Liberia -- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 43 In office since 2006
Gabon -- Ali Bongo Ondimba 41 In office since 2009; elections in late 2016
Ghana -- John Dramani Mahama 36 In office since 2012; elections in November 2016
Mauritania -- Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz 32 In office since 2009
Democratic Republic of the Congo -- Joseph Kabila 28 In office since 2001; elections in November 2016
*No longer in office; +Acting president
World Poll

More than a dozen national elections took place across the African continent last year, with some observers perhaps expecting to see more changes than they did. But ahead of the ballot, incumbent candidates enjoyed relatively high approval ratings and, in most cases, they were able to win another term. Burkina Faso and Tanzania are the notable exceptions. In the former, although acting President Michel Kafando enjoyed an approval rating of 80%, he could not run in last November's elections. In the latter, 64% of Tanzanians approved of Jakaya Kikwete's job performance, but he could not run again because of constitutional term limits. However, a candidate from the ruling party won the election in Tanzania.

So far this year, several national elections have already taken place, and incumbents have retained office, most notably in Chad, the Republic of the Congo and Uganda. Of the seven countries where leadership approval drifted below 50% -- the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritania, Ghana, Gabon, Liberia, South Africa and Zambia -- five have elections scheduled for later this year. But relatively low approval ratings in these countries suggest significant challenges for incumbents, provided the elections are free and fair.

Africans With Favorable View of Job Market Far More Likely to Approve

In general, there are few differences in presidential approval ratings by gender or age. In most countries, less educated Africans and those living in rural areas are more likely to approve of their country's president. But Africans' positive views of the job environment appear to factor more substantially in presidential approval.

It should be noted that in most African countries, a majority or near-majority said it was a bad time to find a job in their communities in 2015. As many as three in four residents in Ghana and Zimbabwe said it was a bad time. In just a few countries -- Mozambique, Niger and Ivory Coast -- a slim majority said it was a good time for job seekers.

In most countries, majorities of Africans who said it was a good time to find a job were more likely to approve of their president's performance than those who said it was a bad time. Differences were largest in Mauritania and Senegal. In South Africa, however, attitudes toward job conditions did not appear to make much of a difference in approval ratings (41% approval from those who said it was a good time vs. 46% approval among those who said it was a bad time). This could suggest voters will look beyond jobs when they cast their ballot in the coming general elections.

Africans' Presidential Approval Based on Their Perceptions of the Job Climate in 2015
"Thinking about the job situation in the city or area where you live today, would you say that it is now a good time or a bad time to find a job?"
  Good time Bad time Difference
  % Approve % Approve (pct. pts.)
Mauritania 49 18 31
Senegal 76 46 30
Togo 72 46 26
Ghana 55 31 24
Democratic Republic of the Congo 42 21 21
Guinea 65 45 20
Mali 73 54 19
Nigeria 78 61 17
Zimbabwe 67 51 16
Niger 76 61 15
Zambia 58 44 14
Sierra Leone 69 56 13
Uganda 74 62 12
Republic of the Congo 66 54 12
Chad 57 45 12
Botswana 91 79 12
Gabon 48 36 12
Mozambique 78 69 9
Liberia 48 40 8
Benin 55 47 8
Ivory Coast 71 63 8
Madagascar 56 49 7
Malawi 58 54 4
Kenya 81 77 4
Burkina Faso 82 78 4
Tanzania 65 62 3
Cameroon 74 71 3
South Africa 41 46 -5
World Poll

Bottom Line

The findings provide a lens into Africans' support for presidential incumbents just a few months before re-elections in some countries. Overall, the African leadership picture has changed little after the last round of elections. In general, high approval ratings suggest incumbents can win another term, although Africans' approval of their leaders ranges widely. Further, Africans' attitudes toward the local job climate, which may be based not only on candidates' promises during electoral campaigns but also on Africans' perceived ability to earn income from labor, appear to be a factor in approval ratings in many countries.

Over the long term, the creation of a climate conducive to job creation and entrepreneurship will become a formidable task for leaders as sub-Saharan Africa's working-age population is expected to exceed that of the rest of world combined by 2035. An estimated 18 million new jobs per year would be needed in the region to absorb the flow of working-age Africans, a daunting challenge, to say the least, for leaders in any region.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with at least 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2015 in Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. For results based on the total sample of national adults in each country, the margin of sampling error is ±3.8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030