A comparative literature on democratic transitions in Africa has sought out points of similarity across the continent in order to yield generalisations about the prospects for democratic consolidation. The underlying contention of this article is that history needs to be taken seriously in any such exercise, not least because politicians and voters alike are guided by their readings of the past. These, in turn, have a bearing on democratic prospects. The first part of this article demonstrates how, in the run-up to the 1996 Ghanaian elections, the opposition parties were guided by an assessment of their historic strengths. The parties which belonged to one or other of the great traditions - Nkrumahism and the Busia/Danquah tradition - regarded themselves as the natural rulers and treated the bearers of the rival standard as the principal threat under normal conditions. The ruling National Democratic Congress, which was regarded by each of them as a mere usurper of the natural order, exhibited a much more ambiguous attitude towards history. The second half of the article scrutinises the election results and seeks to establish the underlying patterns. Particular attention is paid to rural/urban and ethnic/regional voting patterns. The article concludes that while the opposition improved on its 1992 performance, its inroads were actually fairly limited. It further posits that the opposition parties of both traditions fundamentally misread the historical and hence misjudged the scale of the task confronting them. It concludes by raising the possibility that the misfit between perceptions and electoral realities could prove destabilising to Ghana's fledgling democracy.