Eroding dominance from below: Opposition party mobilization in South Africa’s dominant party system

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Phd thesis
Title Eroding dominance from below: Opposition party mobilization in South Africa’s dominant party system
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2019
In countries ruled by a single party for a long period of time, how does political opposition to the ruling party grow? In this dissertation, I study the growth in support for the Democratic Alliance (DA) party, which is the largest opposition party in South Africa. South Africa is a case of democratic dominant party rule, a party system in which fair but uncompetitive elections are held. I argue that opposition party growth in dominant party systems is explained by the strategies that opposition parties adopt in local government and the factors that shape political competition in local politics. I argue that opposition parties can use time spent in local government to expand beyond their base by delivering services effectively and outperforming the ruling party. I also argue that performance in subnational political office helps opposition parties build a reputation for good governance, which is appealing to ruling party supporters who are looking for an alternative. Finally, I argue that opposition parties use candidate nominations for local elections as a means to appeal to constituents that are vital to the ruling party’s coalition.

I find that where the DA is the incumbent party, improvements in household access to basic services such as piped water and proper sanitation are associated with increased support for the party. I also find that when DA-run wards perform better than their neighboring ANC counterparts, support for the DA in the neighboring ward increases in the next election. Next, I examine whether the DA’s reputation for good governance convinces ANC partisans to support the party. I find that the DA’s reputation as an anti-corruption party is a stronger predictor of vote choice than attitudes toward the DA mayor in the cities of Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay. Finally, I examine the changes over time in the DA’s nomination of local government candidates in Eastern Cape, Gauteng, and Western Cape provinces in all local government elections (2000 – 2016). I find that while the DA has been successful at increasing the representation of black candidates in its candidate pool, these candidates are not winning elections or seats at the same rate as the white candidates who reflect the party’s voter base.

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