Eroding Support from Below: Performance in Local Government and Opposition Party Growth in South Africa

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Government and Opposition

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How does support for opposition parties grow in dominant party systems? Most scholarship on the rise of competitive elections in dominant party regimes focuses on elite defections from the ruling party and coordination by opposition parties as key explanations, but there is less focus on how politics at the local level contributes to opposition victories. This article argues that effective service delivery in local government helps opposition parties grow support in local elections. Examining the case of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in South Africa, this article provides a systematic analysis of local elections and opposition party performance. Using an original data set of electoral, census and spatial data at the lowest electoral unit in South Africa (the ward), this article shows that in the areas where it is the incumbent party, support for the DA grows as the delivery of basic services to non-white households improves, and when DA-run wards outperform the neighbouring ones run by the ruling African National Congress party, support for the DA increases in neighbouring wards. Overall, this study contributes to our understanding of how local politics erode dominant party rule.


© Cambridge University Press 2021



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