Learning about democracy in Africa: performance, awareness and experience

Robert Mattes, Michael Bratton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

213 Citations (Scopus)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-217
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007


  • democracy
  • democracy in Africa
  • African politics


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  • Afrobarometer

    Mattes, R., Gyimah-Boadi, E., Bratton, M., Logan, C., Dulani, B. & Mitullah, W.

    14/09/98 → …

    Project: Research

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