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Dissatisfied Democrats in Africa: A Danger for Democracy?

Renske Doorenspleet
University of Warwick
Renske Doorenspleet
University of Warwick

Worldwide, there is substantial popular support for the ideal of democracy but, on the other hand, there is considerable dissatisfaction with democracy within democracies. Democracies are inhabited by many so-called ‘dissatisfied democrats’: citizens who are strong supporters of the democratic ideal, but are unhappy with the way democracy is working in their country. It is not clear how to explain this phenomenon, but based on a review of the existing literature, two different approaches can be distinguished: an optimistic and a pessimistic one. One of my previous articles (see e.g. my 2012 article in the IPSR) investigated why some people are dissatisfied democrats while others are not in eight African democracies – Benin, Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa. The empirical evidence seems to support the complex mix of both the optimistic and pessimistic approaches: to be sure, dissatisfied democrats are critical citizens compared with dissatisfied non-democrats, but they are not more politically active than the rest of the population. In the paper written for the ECPR joint sessions 2013, I would like to find out how people view democracy, and whether dissatisfied democrats define democracy in a different way. The first findings in my previous work suggest that a growing group of dissatisfied democrats are a sign of democracy in decline, but in this ECPR I would like to explore this question further, and investigate whether dissatisfied democrats can be seen either as a democratic danger or as a democratic defence.
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