PP44: Slowly growing or stunted? How delivery of electoral, political, and economic goods impacts support for democracy in Uganda

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Photo by Nicolas Bamulanzeki, photo journalist at Observer weekly newspaper
Policy papers
Francis Kibirige

Parliament of Uganda. Photo by Nicolas Bamulanzeki, photo journalist at Observer weekly newspaper, nicholasbamulanzeki@gmail.com)

After nearly a decade of growth, popular demand for democracy in Africa has shown signs of weakening (Mattes & Bratton, 2016; Lührmann et al., 2017; Cheeseman, 2017)). In Uganda, recent Afrobarometer survey data show that although citizens’ preference for democracy consistently outstrips their perception of how much democracy they’re actually getting, satisfaction with the way their democracy works is on a decade-long slide. 

In survey responses, Ugandans’ preference for democracy fluctuates around election years, increasing before and decreasing after general elections. At the same time, the disparity between popular preference for and satisfaction with democracy, defined in this paper as the “democracy satisfaction gap,” is growing, from 5 percentage points in 2000 to 34 percentage points in 2017. 

These patterns pose a number of questions, including what causes popular preference for democracy to fluctuate around election years and whether indeed Ugandans understand and appreciate democracy.

Survey data suggest that Ugandans have grown in their knowledge of democracy with the passage of time (Mattes, Kibirige, & Sentamu, 2010). Similarly, the proportion of Ugandans who are “committed democrats” – meaning they prefer democracy over any other form of government and consistently reject authoritarian rule – has increased sharply, although women, less educated citizens, and rural residents lag behind in this group. 

Our analysis suggests that a preference for democracy is stronger among citizens who perceive the quality of Uganda’s elections as poor, those who are dissatisfied with the government’s delivery of political or economic goods, those who believe strongly in democratic values, and those who are more cognitively engaged in civic and political life.