Michael Bratton, Robert Mattes, E. Gyimah-Boadi. Public Opinion, Democracy, and Market Reform in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xvii + 466 pp. $79.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-84191-7; $36.99 (paper), ISBN 978-0-521-60291-4.
Reviewed by J. Michael Williams (Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of San Diego)
Published on H-SAfrica (January, 2006)
In Public Opinion, Democracy, and Market Reform in Africa, Bratton, Mattes, and Gyimah-Boadi provide students of African politics and economics with a wealth of data as well as some important theoretical arguments. While the results of the surveys will not come as a surprise to many Africanists, the authors utilize the data to make important arguments about democratic consolidation and about what factors shape opinions about political and market reforms.
Fortunately, the authors have organized the book in a way that makes the data extremely accessible and their arguments clear and concise. The book is divided into four succinct parts. Part 1 provides a literature review and a discussion of survey methodology in Africa. Part 2 presents public opinion data on attitudes towards democracy and market reform. Part 3 seeks to understand why Africans have the attitudes they do with a series of chapters that test different hypotheses. Part 4 offers a theoretical model to explain attitude formation and democratic consolidation in Africa. This is an impressive and well-designed study that will no doubt lead to future research and debate on African political and economic reform.
Part 1 of the book discusses the general themes of political and economic reform and the methodology used in the study. Using extensive public opinion surveys conducted in twelve sub-Saharan Africa countries  from 1999 to 2001, Bratton et al. seek to address some intriguing and challenging empirical questions: 1) How do Africans define democracy?; 2) To what extent do Africans support democratic and market reforms?; 3) To what extent are Africans satisfied with the consequences of these reforms? For these questions, the authors utilize the findings from Afrobarometer (www.afrobarometer.org), a series of national public opinion surveys on democracy, markets, and civil society conducted by an international network of researchers. Over the last decade, these surveys, which are well known to students of African politics and economics, have proved to be invaluable as a snapshot of African attitudes on a series of issues. Indeed, in five of the Afrobarometer countries (Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria, Zambia, and South Africa), the authors have time-series data, and are thus able to examine changes in attitudes. As will be discussed below, the attitudes of Africans toward democracy, markets, and government institutions are in some cases contrary to previous studies and will undoubtedly produce some debate in the literature.
For those interested in more theoretical questions, this book provides coherent and persuasive arguments that deepen our understanding of these complex issues. Throughout their study, the authors provide theoretical models to understand why Africans have the attitudes they do, the reasons for cross-national variation, the connections between political attitudes and political action, and the prospects for democratic consolidation.
In particular, the authors' definition of democratic consolidation, which the authors argue can be measured through a series of statistical methods, offers scholars a new way to analyze this important, yet sometimes elusive, concept. The authors argue that the concept of consolidation should be analyzed beyond the notion of democracy alone. They take seriously the idea of hybrid regimes, which are defined as regimes that cannot be considered full democracies or full autocracies. For the authors, democratic consolidation involves "a high level of equilibrium between popular democratic demands and the perceived supply of democratic institutions that is maintained over some period of time" (p. 28). They argue that because this definition treats "normative preferences" separately from "empirical evaluations," it "overcomes a common problem of faulty inference that occurs when analysts project consolidation prospects solely from expressed levels of popular support for an ideal regime" (p. 321). For the purposes of this study, they argue that democratic consolidation exists when 70 percent of the population demands democracy and when 70 percent believes they have it.
While the empirical and theoretical findings in the book are impressive, the authors acknowledge some inherent limits. First, there are the well-known methodological issues concerning the collection of accurate and reliable data about values, attitudes, and behaviors through public opinion surveys, especially in African countries, where such surveys have been rare. To address some of the biases associated with public opinion surveys, the authors stress that they formulated their questionnaire only after focus groups were held, that they asked open-ended questions, and that they conducted surveys in countries that have undergone political liberalization and allow a fair amount of free speech. Obviously, every research design has its inherent flaws and biases that can never be fully addressed, and it appears that the Afrobarometer surveys have accounted for these challenges at least as well as other cross-national studies, such as the Eurobarometer, the Latinobarometer, and the New Democracies Barometer.
A second limitation of this book concerns the applicability of its conclusions. The authors readily admit that their findings do not apply to all "Africans" and that their empirical and theoretical arguments pertain only to the twelve Afrobarometer countries. As noted above, because these countries have all undergone political liberalization, the authors expected to find respondents who had more developed understandings of democracy and market reform than other Africans.
Third, the authors note that while they are interested in contributing to the theoretical debate concerning democratic consolidation in Africa, their arguments about democratic consolidation are limited to the subregime of political opinion. Rather than conceptualize consolidation as a "meta process" that involves the "evolution of whole regimes," the authors take seriously Schmitter's call to "decompose whole systems and to refocus analysis on subregimes" (p. 29). They encourage other scholars to investigate whether independent, macro-level measures of other subregimes are consistent with their findings.
Part 2 of the book presents the empirical findings of the Afrobarometer surveys. The authors find that attitudes about democracy are wide but shallow in that many Africans can define democracy but few are completely satisfied with the performance of their democratic governments (pp. 83-84). For example, 78 percent of respondents were able to give a definition of democracy when asked to define it in their own words. Of the definitions offered, a majority were what the authors refer to as "procedural" and "liberal." In other words, given an open-ended question, most respondents did not define democracy substantively and most did not correlate democracy with the distribution of economic goods.
This finding seemingly contradicts Frederic Schaeffer's study, which argued that the Wolof in Senegal conceptualized democracy more substantively than procedurally. Yet the conclusions the authors draw from this data are questionable. Interestingly, the authors also found that when respondents were asked to choose from a pre-coded list of possible definitions of democracy, a majority defined democracy substantively rather than procedurally. These contradictory findings suggest that definitions of democracy are still fluid and that Africans may indeed conceptualize democracy in ways that defy simple categorization. Such contradictions also highlight the inherent limits of survey data. As I will discuss in more detail below, a full understanding of democratic consolidation requires scholars to not only explore what Africans say about democracy, but also, how they interact with both formal and informal institutions, which may or may not be democratic.
The authors also find that an overwhelming majority of Africans support democracy. In fact, the only country where Africans do not support democracy is Lesotho, where only 40 percent of respondents preferred democracy. The authors also asked respondents whether they reject particular types of authoritarian rule, including military rule, one-man rule, one-party rule, traditional rule, and technocratic rule. The findings suggest that there is a strong antiauthoritarian bias in the Afrobarometer countries, given that a majority of respondents in each country rejected each of these types of authoritarian rule. In terms of satisfaction with democracy, however, the findings are not as optimistic, leading to the conclusion that attitudes about democracy are wide but shallow. While a majority of respondents in ten of the twelve Afrobarometer countries are "satisfied" with democracy, more people are "fairly satisfied" than "very satisfied" (p. 82).
With respect to market reforms, the authors find that support for such reforms is lukewarm and that most respondents are critical of the performance of their respective economic systems. Unlike democracy, which a vast majority of people could define, the authors find that only 43 percent of respondents have heard of their country's structural adjustment program (SAP) (p. 113). Of those that know about it, a majority supports it but only 21 percent are satisfied with its results. Thus, there are significant differences among the ways that Africans in these Afrobarometer countries understand and evaluate democratic and economic reforms.
After discussing these differences, the authors seek to understand how attitudes may, or may not, affect political and economic behavior. What is most interesting about this data is the wide discrepancy between what respondents claim they value and what they claim they actually do. For example, while a vast majority of respondents support democracy, reject authoritarian options, and demonstrate a procedural and liberal understanding of democracy, they also demonstrate a propensity to rely upon kinship networks and private patrons rather than state institutions to solve problems.
Unfortunately, the authors do not fully address the implications of these findings. The processes of state building and democratization are mutually reinforcing and Africanists need to be much more aware of the intersection between the two. Indeed, the existence of weak states and strong societies are well known to most students of Africa, and it is notable that Africans themselves reaffirm the arguments of scholars such as Jeffrey Herbst and others. I will discuss the effect of such a discrepancy between stated values about democracy and actual trust in state institutions in more detail below.
Part 3 of the book is where the authors test competing hypotheses about the reasons behind African opinions. Examining three predominant theories (structure of society, cultural values, and institutional influences), they find that none sufficiently explains attitudes toward democracy and markets. Instead, the authors demonstrate that an individual's awareness about public affairs--that is, whether an individual is cognizant of politics-- accounts for whether he or she is committed to democracy. Of the factors examined, they find that awareness of democracy and knowledge of leaders is actually more important than formal education or exposure to media. They also find that an individual's commitment to democracy is positively related to the delivery of political rights. In other words, Africans evaluate the performance of regimes, and these evaluations influence their commitment to democracy. For the authors, these findings are extremely important because they demonstrate that the more Africans know about reforms, the more they will support them. And while the authors recognize that most countries suffer from extremely low levels of information (more than half of respondents are not engaged with politics), they believe that these findings demonstrate that Africans make rational evaluations about their regimes and that the delivery of political rights (as opposed to economic goods) is sufficient for regimes to win their support.
In part 4, the authors advance their own theory as to how attitudes affect the consolidation of democratic and quasi-democratic regimes. They first establish four ways to measure attitudes toward democratic and market reform. First, they create an "index of commitment to democracy" that combines two measures: support for democracy and rejection of authoritarian rule. This index, they believe, sets a higher standard for democratic support. Second, they create an "index of supply of democracy" that combines the attitudes about the perceived extent of democracy and popular satisfaction with democracy. The advantage of this construct is that it reduces "the impact of the attitudes of uncritical citizens ... [because it] moderates the tendency of some citizens to settle for a political regime that actually falls well short of democracy" (p. 277). Third, the "index for support of economic reforms" measures the extent to which individuals support user fees, market prices for consumer goods, privatization of public corporations, and job retrenchment in civil service. And fourth, the "supply of economic reform" is based on how satisfied individuals are with structural adjustment programs.
Their findings suggest that the most important factor as to whether an individual will support democracy will be if he or she is mentally engaged in political affairs. That less than half of the respondents admit to this leads the authors to conclude that support for democracy is shallow. They also find that formal education, cultural values, or institutional association do not affect this measure. Other than cognitive awareness about politics, the only factor that affects support for democracy is whether an individual is from the postcolonial generation.
Whether individuals believe their political system is actually operating like a democracy (supply of democracy), the most important factor is the performance of the regime; specifically, the performance of the president and whether the elections are free and fair. This leads the authors to conclude that Africans define the extent of democracy rationally, rather than defining it solely in terms of loyalty or whether they have benefited economically or politically from the new regime.
The findings with respect to economic reforms, however, lead to some different conclusions. They find that the most important factor in explaining whether an individual supports economic reforms is cognitive awareness. In other words, the more an individual knows about the economic reform policies, the more likely he or she is to support the policies. But this model also shows that cultural values are important as well. For example, an individual who believes in individualism and defines him- or herself in terms of occupation, social class, or nationality (what the authors refer to as a modern identity), rather than in terms of ethnicity, language or religion (referred to as traditional identity), is much more likely to support economic reforms. Thus, unlike the case with support for democracy, cultural values do matter with respect to economic reforms. Given that the Afrobarometer surveys demonstrate that approximately half of the respondents espouse traditional identities and support communitarian values, the authors conclude that there is a cultural battle that is part of the economic reform process (p. 285). Similar to the supply of democracy index, the extent to which individuals are satisfied with economic reform is based on almost exclusively on performance evaluations. Interestingly, poverty is not a factor here.
Combining this data into a path model, the authors demonstrate how learning about reform works (p. 290). With this model, they argue that political generation continues to be a crucial factor in creating a demand for democracy. Unlike other models, formal education becomes a crucial factor as it helps create cognitive awareness, which in turn, is critical to creating demands for democracy and a market economy. The most interesting aspect of this model, however, is that it shows a one-way relationship between supply of democracy and supply of economic reform. Stated differently, individuals who believe democracy exists in their country are more likely to be satisfied with economic reforms. The conclusion that the authors draw from this relationship is that in the midst of a dual transition, political attitudes shape economic attitudes, not the other way around, resulting in what they refer to as the "democratic dividend."
The authors, however, not only want to measure the attitudes that Africans have about democracy and market reform, but also to know more about how people behave politically and economically. In other words, does attitude change result in individuals participating more in politics? In chapter 12, the authors address this question and find that while attitudes have changed over time, behaviors have not. Participation in politics takes place when influential political actors encourage the activity; it is not something to occur autonomously at the level of civil society (p. 296).
In the final chapter, the authors incorporate one additional factor--national histories of individual countries. This chapter builds on Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle's previous argument concerning the importance of regime type and the transition to democracy. Yet the argument here is slightly different. Using a regression analysis, the authors compare the four indices discussed above for each of the Afrobarometer countries with the scores compiled for Botswana. Botswana was chosen as a country of comparison because its respondents "surpass most other Africans in levels of support for democracy and markets" (p. 317). The authors expect that "if any country differences appear, we expect signs on the regression coefficients to be negative, because being a citizen of a country other than Botswana makes Africans less likely to have embraced reform" (p. 317).
This analysis reveals the importance of country legacies on public opinions. When introduced into the regression model, this factor is the second most important determinant of demand for democracy, with only cognitive awareness accounting for more variation. With supply of democracy and supply of economic reforms, only performance evaluations explained more variation.
Based on this analysis, the authors demonstrate that none of the Afrobarometer countries, not even Botswana, have achieved democratic consolidation. In fact, all except Lesotho, which they argue is an autocracy, are hybrid regimes where either democratic demand or supply is lacking. Those countries that have a greater demand for democracy than supply are labeled popular hybrid regimes and those that supply more democracy than people demand are labeled elite hybrid regimes. Popular hybrid regimes include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, and Nigeria, while elite hybrid regimes include Namibia, South Africa, and Uganda (p. 325). Based on their findings, the authors argue that popular hybrid regimes are more likely than elite hybrid regimes to become consolidated democracies.
Overall, this offers an incredible set of data and an innovative theoretical approach to democratic consolidation. Like most studies that are conceptually and theoretically rich, this book provides some interesting and compelling arguments concerning some of the puzzles of African political and economic transformations, but also raises paradoxes that will hopefully be addressed in future research. For example, the findings in this book challenge the assumption that Botswana is the model democracy in Africa. Given that 26 percent of the respondents in Botswana could not define democracy and given that this was the most common response, should scholars and policymakers reevaluate the Botswana "success" story?
More importantly, the authors find that while Africans claim they want democracy, they still utilize informal or non-state authority institutions, such as private patrons, traditional leaders, and religious leaders. Understanding this "gap" is crucial to analyzing reforms in sub-Saharan Africa, and unfortunately, the authors do not effectively interrogate the implications of this finding. While the authors claim that "cultural values" do not shape the attitudes Africans have about politics, other studies have argued the contrary (Ashforth 2005; Schatzberg 2001; Schaeffer 1999; Geschiere 1997). What the authors fail to recognize is that "cultural values" are much more complex than the simple dichotomy between "traditional" and "modern." These are extremely contested terms that may be difficult to measure using survey methods. The authors recognize the limitations of the survey method and encourage scholars to utilize their data for future research. As I mentioned above, more attention should be focused on the intersection of state-building and democratization as well as the importance of formal and informal institutions. Indeed, many of the conclusions in this book reinforce Richard Sklar's argument that African countries are likely to construct hybrid regimes that combine both formal and informal institutions. While there is clear evidence that many African citizens desire democratic regimes, there is still the question as to whether these regimes have gained political legitimacy.
. The countries included in the study are Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
. Philippe Schmitter, "Interest Systems and the Consolidation of Democracies," in Reexaming Democracy: Essays in Honor of Seymour Martin Lipset, ed. Gary Marks and Larry Diamond (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992, pp. 93-139).
. Frederic C. Schaeffer, Democracy in Translation: Understanding Politics in an Unfamiliar Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999).
. Jeffrey Herbst, States and Power in Africa: C omparative Lessons in Authority and Control (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).
. Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle, Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
. Adam Ashforth, Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in South Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Michael G. Schatzberg, Political Legitimacy in Middle Africa: Father, Family, Food (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001); Frederic C. Schaeffer, Democracy in Translation: Understanding Politics in an Unfamiliar Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999); Peter Geschiere, The Modernity of Witchcraft: Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997).
. Richard L. Sklar, "African Polities: The Next Generation," in State, Conflict, and Democracy in Africa, ed. Richard Joseph (Boulder: Lynne Reinner, 1999), pp. 165-78.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
J. Michael Williams. Review of Bratton, Michael; Mattes, Robert; Gyimah-Boadi, E., Public Opinion, Democracy, and Market Reform in Africa.
H-SAfrica, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2006 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at email@example.com.