WP157: Political risks facing African democracies: Evidence from Afrobarometer

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Working papers
Bratton, Michael and E. Gyimah-Boadi

Where are African countries headed politically? How resilient are Africa’s governments, regimes, and states? What are the characteristics of political risk? This paper is motivated by a desire to discover whether it is possible to identify early-warning indicators of risk to African political systems. We suggest that Afrobarometer survey data may be used to systematically track trends in mass political support – such as approval for incumbent governments, satisfaction with political regime performance, and the popular legitimacy of state institutions. Where trends in dimensions of popular disapproval turn sharply upward, we infer increasing political risk. The paper is anchored empirically with 15 years’ worth of public opinion data for selected African countries and offers interpretations of what these observations might mean. The analysis is both retrospective – connecting empirical trends to known episodes of instability in Mali, Kenya, and Zimbabwe – and prospective – raising red flags for countries like Ghana, among others, once considered stable but currently facing new political strains.