PP26: The viability of political opposition in Africa: Popular views

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Policy papers
Michael Bratton and Carolyn Logan

How competitive are African political regimes? Why do opposition parties often struggle to gain a foothold? In many countries, an incumbent ruling party dominates the political arena, essentially reducing elections to a one-horse race and limiting day-to-day governance to a closed shop. In these countries it is unclear whether opposition political parties are sufficiently viable – either alone or in electoral alliance – to amass enough votes to win and exercise political office.

This paper addresses the question of opposition viability from the perspective of ordinary African citizens. Do citizens desire real choices at the ballot box? Do they differentiate ruling and opposition parties, and if so, how? And how do they perceive the role of the political opposition in the long periods between elections? Do they wish opposition parties to play the classic democratic role of holding rulers accountable? And what explains the perceived viability of political opposition?

We offer preliminary answers to these questions with reference to early returns from 31,163 interviews conducted in the first 20 countries surveyed during Afrobarometer Round 6 (2014-2015).