WP7: Public opinion and the consolidation of democracy in Southern Africa

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Working papers
2000
7
Mattes, Robert, Michael Bratton, Yul Derek Davids and Cherrel Africa

Based on public opinion surveys, this paper reports preliminary findings on progress towards democratic consolidation in six Southern African countries. There was considerable variation in responses among the countries studied, but overall the findings suggest that democracy, although still incompletely understood, nevertheless generates widespread popular support in most of the region. Although the performance of many of these countries’ governments has not always been satisfactory, and state and government institutions receive very mixed ratings on key dimensions of trust, responsiveness, corruption, and overall job performance, these democratic regimes are nevertheless viewed by the majority as the best alternative. In fact, sizeable segments of the public claim they would take action to oppose authoritarian reversals of democratic freedoms. At the same time, Southern Africans display relatively low levels of political interest and participation relative to those in other regions, and feel that they do not have the information, understanding, and ability to affect what goes on in politics and government. Thus, the most important priority for strengthening democracy is not to convince Southern Africans about the value of democracy, but rather to build the habits of democratic citizenship.