Inequality and support for democracy – a micro perspective

Working paper number: 448
Author: Thomas Isbell
Unit: CSSR

In this paper I explore how perceived inequality shapes support for democracy among ordinary Africans. Past research has argued that macro-level inequality should both increase and decrease support for democracy. However, the empirical evidence is far from conclusive and little is known for cases in Africa. Recent advancements in the study of inequality has shown that objective levels and measures of inequality are weakly understood by ordinary people. Rather, I use a micro-level perceptual measure of inequality. While previous work has examined group-level perceived inequalities, I believe this study is the first to estimate effects of individual perceived inequality. I employ Afrobarometer survey data from Round 7 (2016-2018) using multi-level modeling to account for clustering of data within country-units. My models show that perceived equality significantly increases support for democracy as a regime type, while feelings of being more unlike others significantly reduces support for democracy. This effect is significant above and beyond the effect of absolute poverty and known predictors of support for democracy, such as free and fair elections, and level of education. Similar results are obtained when running the models to predict demand for democracy. Moreover, I am able to confirm that perceived equality, rather than feelings of relative deprivation or superiority, drives support and demand. For both dependent variables, I find no significant effect of macro-level inequality using the Gini coefficient. However, I find a significant effect of macro-level inequality when employing an alternative measure of inequality using poverty dispersion.

Publication file:isbell.pdf