Laws that restrict foreign funding to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can depress voting through two mechanisms. First, they can signal a democracy recession. Consequently, citizens might fear rigged elections where their vote will not influence who forms the next government. Second, by denying funding to NGOs, these laws can undermine NGOs’ ability to generate social capital, which is crucial to mitigate collective action problems associated with voting. Since 1990, 13 of Africa’s 54 states have enacted laws restricting foreign funding for NGOs. Drawing on the 2016 Afrobarometer survey (36 countries, 53,936 respondents), we find support for the argument that restrictive NGO laws reduce citizens’ electoral participation in national elections probably by signaling democracy recession, and not by undermining social capital that foreign-funded NGOs are supposed to generate. In fully democratic countries, respondents are around 94% more likely to report having voted in a recent national election even after controlling for restrictive NGO laws.
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