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Does perceived inequality shape how satisfied ordinary Africans are with how democracy is functioning in their countries? I use nationally representative Afrobarometer survey data (collected in 2016-2018 in 34 countries, N=45,811) to test whether satisfaction with democracy (SWD) is higher among people who (1) feel that their living conditions are equal to others’ or (2) feel that they are better off than other people. Controlling for both individual- and country-level effects, I show that feeling better off than other people increases satisfaction, and feeling worse off than other people decreases satisfaction, with how democracy is functioning in the respondent’s country. People who feel equal to others are more satisfied than those who feel relatively deprived, but less satisfied than people who say they are better off than others. These results suggest egocentric expectations of the functioning of democracy among ordinary Africans. I demonstrate that these relative assessments are significant and comparable in effect size to widely used predictors of satisfaction with democracy found in the literature, such as economic country-level evaluations, partisanship, and political interest. These results therefore should encourage future research to include individual-level comparative assessments as predictors of SWD. Our results represent the most recent cross-national re-examination of predictors of SWD in Africa. My regression results are widely in line with past empirical research – both in and outside of Africa – and suggest that SWD is primarily shaped by political and economic performance evaluations. This points to the explanatory model of SWD in Africa being relatively stable across time.

Thomas Isbell

Thomas is the Capacity Building Manager (advanced analysis track) and a Post-doctoral research fellow at Afrobarometer