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Bridges and Bonds: List Proportional Representation (PR) and Campaigning in South Africa

Year: 2003
Working paper number: 050
Author: Davis, Gavin
Unit: DARU
Abstract:

It is argued in this paper that the list proportional representation (PR) electoral system encourages parties to campaign using racially divisive themes in South Africa. A content analysis of party campaigning in 1994 and 1999 demonstrates the extent to which the various parties espoused messages that sought to mobilise groups on the basis of their race. A comparison of the main parties indicates that those parties that invoke exclusive 'us and them' messages do better than those that attempt an inclusive 'catch-all' strategy. The list PR electoral system is identified as the key explanatory variable for this phenomenon. List PR encourages the growth of a centrifugal party system where parties aim to racially 'outbid' each other for the votes of the groups they purport to represent. In such a system, parties that 'bond' with the social cleavage they represent are rewarded, while those that attempt to 'bridge' historical divisions are punished. It is suggested that over time, parties will 'learn' that the most successful means of mobilising voters is to play on the fears and aspirations associated with their race, with potentially disastrous consequences for racial reconciliation and democratic consolidation in South Africa.


Publication file: wp50.pdf
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