Public opinion and democratic legitimacy

Authored by: Robert Mattes

Routledge Handbook of Democratization in Africa

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  July  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138081246
eBook ISBN: 9781315112978
Adobe ISBN:


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A review of Afrobarometer results over a fifteen-year period reveals that elected, representative democracy enjoys a widespread, although not overwhelmingly, positive image. But while the median African supports democracy and rejects presidential dictatorship, military rule, and the one-party state, when measured with single indicators, many Africans are inconsistent democrats, rejecting some elements of autocracy while expressing acquiescent or even anti-democratic sentiments on others. And once we move beyond continental averages, we find enormous cross-national variation, as well as country paths over time—with some countries still displaying steady gains, but others in decline, and still others characterized by trendless variation. Compared to their levels of support for democracy, Africans are far less likely to see themselves as active principals, with a role to play in controlling the actions of their elected agents. And while the majority of Africans articulate a weak understanding of democracy in terms of political procedure, many respondents can be persuaded of alternative economic and substantive understandings of democracy. Thus, many apparently committed democrats express satisfaction with the performance of regimes that are only partially democratic, and the size of the proportion of dissatisfied democrats is too small in many places to push for the expansion of democracy, or to safeguard its erosion.

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