DOCUMENTS

Democracy and popular political norms in South Africa (I)

Charles Simkins looks at political perceptions and the degree they conform to or differ from Constitutional norms

Democracy and popular political norms in South Africa (I) - To what degree do popular political perceptions correlate with basic Constitutional norms?

5 March 2019

INTRODUCTION

The Constitution spells out a considerable number of norms for South Africa’s democracy.  This brief considers the extent to which popular South African political opinions conform to or differ from these constitutional norms.  Data are taken from the Afrobarometer[1] Round 6 South African Survey, conducted in 2015.  The Survey contains over a hundred questions.  The focus here is on sixteen of them, relating to democracy and governance.  They are set out in Appendix 1.  For each question, one can identify responses that conform to constitutional norms.

ANALYSIS

If we add up the constitution conforming responses to these 16 questions for each respondent, the median score is 12.  The score at the 25th percentile is 10, and the score at the 75th percentile is 13.  The entire distribution of the scores is presented in Figure 1.

Next, consider the percentage of respondents who return a constitution conforming response to each question.  Table 1 sets out the information, ordered by percentage.

Table 1: Constitutional conformity by question (per cent)

Q30b *

Unwilling to live under non-elected government

34

Q33

Many parties needed

41

Q31 *

Prefer accountability to speed of decisions

51

Q34 *

President monitored by parliament

62

Q30 *

Democracy preferable

64

Q28b *

Reject military rule

67

Q36

Investigative media

70

Q28a *

Reject one-party rule

72

Q37

Parliament makes laws

76

Q28d *

Reject return to apartheid

77

Q32 *

Regular elections

77

Q38 *

President must obey laws

77

Q39 *

Two term limit

78

Q28c *

Reject one-man rule

80

Q29e *

Positive or neutral views about democracy

88

Q29a *

Understand democracy

95

The very low score for Q30b and the low scores for Q33 and Q31 are noteworthy and they will be considered in detail in the second brief in this series. 

How does the mean conformity score vary by population group and socio-economic status[2]?  Table 2 presents the results for the average constitution conformity scores by population group and socio-economic status.

Table 2: Mean constitutional conformity scores by population group and socio-economic status (per cent)

Socio-economic status

Black

Coloured

Asian

White

All

Poorest 20%

11.4

10.4

10.6

11.6

11.6

Next 20%

11.6

11.0

13.0

11.5

11.5

Middle 20%

11.4

10.6

10.8

10.7

10.7

Next 20%

11.5

11.0

11.6

10.9

10.9

Richest 20%

11.8

10.5

11.4

11.0

11.0

All

11.5

10.7

11.4

11.0

11.4

There are no significant differences[3] between the scores by socio-economic group.  The scores by population group are significantly different, with Coloured and White mean scores lower than Black scores.  Nonetheless, more than 98% of the variance in scores is within individual population groups, and less than 2% is accounted for by variance between groups. 

Differences by population group show up when it comes to individual questions.  The asterisks in Table 1 indicate the questions for which significant differences were found in the population proportions returning a constitutionally conforming response.  A table setting out the differences appears in Appendix 3.  But, as in the case for the differences in mean scores, less than 2% of the variance in response is accounted for by group differences.

Up to this point, the focus has been simply on the degree to which the various answers can be regarded as in line with constitutional norms.  But do the responses to individual questions indicate coherent conceptions of democracy?  The next brief deals with that question.

Charles Simkins, Head of Research, HSF, Helen Suzman Foundation. 

This article first appeared as an HSF Brief. 

APPENDIX 1

Question Number: Q28A

Question: There are many ways to govern a country. Would you disapprove or approve of the following alternatives: Only one political party is allowed to stand for election and hold office?

Constitution conforming:  Strongly disapprove, disapprove

Question Number: Q28B

Question: There are many ways to govern a country. Would you disapprove or approve of the following alternatives: The army comes in to govern the country?  

Constitution conforming:  Strongly disapprove, disapprove

Question Number: Q28C

Question: There are many ways to govern a country. Would you disapprove or approve of the following alternatives: Elections and Parliament are abolished so that the president can decide everything?

Constitution conforming:  Strongly disapprove, disapprove

Question Number: Q28D-SAF

Question: There are many ways to govern a country. Would you disapprove or approve of the following alternatives: If the country returned to the old system we had under Apartheid?

Constitution conforming:  Strongly disapprove, disapprove

Question Number: Q29a

Question: What, if anything, does “democracy” mean to you?

Constitutional conforming: Understood “democracy” in [English/French/Portuguese], Required local language translation

Question Number: Q29e

Question: What, if anything, does “democracy: mean to you?

Constitution conforming:  Positive or neutral replies

Question Number: Q30

Question: Which of these three statements is closest to your own opinion?

Statement 1: Democracy is preferable to any other kind of government.

Statement 2: In some circumstances, a non-democratic government can be preferable.

Statement 3: For someone like me, it doesn’t matter what kind of government we have.

Constitution conforming:  Democracy preferable

Question Number: Q30B-SAF

Question: If a non-elected government or leader could impose law and order, and deliver houses and jobs: How willing or unwilling would you be to give up regular elections and live under such a government?

Constitution conforming:  Unwilling, very unwilling 

Question Number: Q31

Question: Which of the following statements is closest to your view? Choose Statement 1 or Statement 2.

Statement 1: It is more important to have a government that can get things done, even if we have no influence over what it does.

Statement 2: It is more important for citizens to be able to hold government accountable, even if that means it makes decisions more slowly.

Constitution conforming:  Agree with Statement 2, Agree very strongly with Statement 2

Question Number: Q32

Question: Which of the following statements is closest to your view? Choose Statement 1 or Statement 2.

Statement 1: We should choose our leaders in this country through regular, open and honest elections.

Statement 2: Since elections sometimes produce bad results, we should adopt other methods for choosing this country’s leaders.

Constitution conforming:  Agree very strongly with Statement 1, Agree with Statement 1

Question Number: Q33

Question: Which of the following statements is closest to your view? Choose Statement 1 or Statement 2.

Statement 1: Political parties create division and confusion; it is therefore unnecessary to have many political parties in South Africa.

Statement 2: Many political parties are needed to make sure that South Africans have real choices in who governs them.

Constitution conforming: Agree with Statement 2, Agree very strongly with Statement 2

Question Number: Q34

Question: Which of the following statements is closest to your view? Choose Statement 1 or Statement 2

Statement 1: Parliament should ensure that the President explains to it on a regular basis how his government spends taxpayers’ money.

Statement 2: Political parties create division and confusion; it is therefore unnecessary to have many political parties in South Africa.

Constitution conforming:  Agree very strongly with Statement 1, Agree with Statement 1

Question Number: Q36

Question: Which of the following statements is closest to your view? Choose Statement 1 or Statement 2

Statement 1: The news media should constantly investigate and report on government mistakes and corruption.

Statement 2: Too much reporting on negative events, like government mistakes and corruption, only harms the country.

Constitution conforming: Agree very strongly with Statement 1, Agree with Statement 1

Question Number: Q37

Question: Which of the following statements is closest to your view? Choose Statement 1 or Statement 2.

Statement 1: Members of Parliament represent the people; therefore they should make laws for this country, even if the President does not agree.

Statement 2: Since the President represents all of us, he should pass laws without worrying about what Parliament thinks.

Constitution conforming: Agree very strongly with Statement 1,Agree with Statement 1

Question Number: Q38

Question: Which of the following statements is closest to your view? Choose Statement 1 or Statement 2.

Statement 1: Since the President was elected to lead the country, he should not be bound by laws or court decisions that he thinks are wrong.

Statement 2: The President must always obey the laws and the courts, even if he thinks they are wrong.

Constitution conforming: Agree with Statement 2, Agree very strongly with Statement 2,

Question Number: Q39

Question: Which of the following statements is closest to your view? Choose Statement 1 or Statement 2

Statement 1: The Constitution should limit the president to serving a maximum of two terms in office.

Statement 2: There should be no constitutional limit on how long the president can serve.

Constitution conforming: Agree very strongly with Statement 1, Agree with Statement 1

APPENDIX 2

Calculation of the socio-economic index

The index is based on the responses to five questions in the Survey.

Question Number: Q5

Question: In general, how do you rate your living conditions compared to those of other South Africans?

Value Labels: 1=Much worse, 2=Worse, 3=Same, 4=Better, 5=Much better

Question Number: Q8A

Question: Over the past year, how often, if ever, have you or anyone in your family: Gone without enough food to eat?

Value Labels: 0=Never, 1=Just once or twice, 2=Several times, 3=Many times, 4=Always

Question Number: Q8C

Question: Over the past year, how often, if ever, have you or anyone in your family: Gone without medicines or medical treatment?

Value Labels: 0=Never, 1=Just once or twice, 2=Several times, 3=Many times, 4=Always      

Question Number: Q8E

Question: Over the past year, how often, if ever, have you or anyone in your family: Gone without a cash income?

Value Labels: 0=Never, 1=Just once or twice, 2=Several times, 3=Many times, 4=Always

Question Number: Q97

Question: What is your highest level of education?

Value Labels: 0=No formal schooling, 1=Informal schooling only (including Koranic schooling), 2=Some primary schooling, 3=Primary school completed, 4=Intermediate school or Some secondary school / high school, 5=Secondary school / high school completed, 6=Post-secondary qualifications, other than university e.g. a diploma or degree from a polytechnic or college, 7=Some university, 8=University completed, 9=Post-graduate

For the technically minded:

- In all cases, the values are set so that the lowest represents the lowest socio-economic status

- The response options are ordered categorical, so the appropriate way of obtaining a correlation matrix is by using a polychoric method.

- Factor analysis can then be applied to the correlation matrix and the first factor is interpreted as an indicator of socio-economic status.

- The indicator so obtained is continuous, and the observations are divided into five quintiles.

APPENDIX 3

Percentages of the population returning a constitutionally conforming response by population group

Question

Black

Coloured

Asian

White

28a

71

72

85

81

28b

71

59

63

61

28c

81

75

86

79

28d

83

75

65

44

29a

95

89

97

98

29e

88

78

87

80

30

66

56

56

51

30b

32

42

41

37

31

48

61

58

65

32

77

69

73

74

34

62

52

74

62

38

76

83

85

82

39

79

72

84

86

[1] Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in more than 35 countries in Africa.

[2] To answer the second part of the question, it is necessary to construct an index of socio-economic status from other variables within the Survey.  The method used is outlined in Appendix 2.

[3] at the 5% level.  There is a difference between ‘significant’ and ‘substantial’.  Significance is related to sampling error, while a substantial difference refers to the size of gap between categories, for instance, the gap between the mean score for one population group