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Learning about Democracy in Africa: Awareness, Performance, and Experience

Year: 2007
Author: Mattes, Robert
Unit: DARU
Journal: American Journal of Political Science
Volume: 51
Issue: 1
Pages: 192–217

Conventional views of African politics imply that Africans' political opinions are based either on enduring cultural values or their positions in the social structure. In contrast, we argue that Africans form attitudes to democracy based upon what they learn about what it is and does. This learning hypothesis is tested against competing cultural, institutional, and structural theories to explain citizens' demand for democracy (legitimation) and their perceived supply of democracy (institutionalization) with data from 12 Afrobarometer attitude surveys conducted between 1999 and 2001. A multilevel model that specifies and estimates the impacts of both individual- and national-level factors provides evidence of learning from three different sources. First, people learn about the content of democracy through cognitive awareness of public affairs. Second, people learn about the consequences of democracy through direct experience of the performance of governments and (to a lesser extent) the economy. Finally, people draw lessons about democracy from national political legacies.