Youth and competition boost turnout in Tunisian Municipal Elections

TL;DR

Municipalities with a greater number of younger registered voters experienced higher turnout. Municipalities with more candidates proportional to the size of the electorate witnessed substantially increased turnout.

Introduction

On May 6, Tunisia held its first municipal elections since the 2011 Revolution. While the country has now witnessed two rounds of free and fair national elections, municipal elections have been subject to multiple delays. Nonetheless, the elections represent an important landmark in a process of decentralization that many hope will give Tunisians better political representation, especially in poorer interior regions.

The main headlines coming from the election related to the apparent low turnout (at around 33%). While a 33% turnout is not unusually low for local elections, the focus on turnout stems perhaps from an expectation that the holding of the very first free local elections in Tunisia might have inspired more Tunisians to cast their ballot. Tunisia’s political class also made every effort to mobilize voters, with President Beji Caid Essebsi calling for a “massive turnout” in the days leading up to the vote. Despite hopes to the contrary, the expectation prior to the elections was that low turnout would be particularly pronounced among younger Tunisians given their reduced registration rates. On polling day, several reports noted that voters seemed to be disproportionately older.

Crowd-sourced election data

The elections were also notable for the commendable online community-led efforts to crowd source data on local voting patterns. Before official results were announced by Tunisia’s Independent Higher Elections Authority (ISIE), Cahiers de la Liberté and Data4Tunisia were able to publish a complete list of results of each candidate list for all 350 of Tunisia’s Municipalities. Below, I combine these data with municipality-level demographic data provided by the ISIE in order to investigate voting patterns.

Age and turnout

I focus on turnout and look first at associations between municipal-level age demographics and reported turnout rates. The map below displays turnout in each municipality of Tunisia for the recent elections.