Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Dynamics of Democratic Satisfaction in Transitional Settings: Evidence from a Panel Study in Uganda

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Dynamics of Democratic Satisfaction in Transitional Settings: Evidence from a Panel Study in Uganda

Article excerpt

Recent years have seen significant growth in the literature on nominally democratic institutions.1 Even hybrid or authoritarian regimes frequently have parties and legislatures, which ostensibly allow rulers to co-opt adversaries (Blaydes 2011; Gandhi 2008; Gandhi and Przeworski 2007; Magaloni 2006, 2008; Svolik 2012). Such institutions do not mean that a country is on an inexorable march toward full democracy, although they might increase the likelihood of democratic consolidation, were a regime change to occur (Brownlee 2009; Bunce and Wolchik 2011; Howard and Roessler 2006).

Despite increased attention, there is little scholarship on citizens' evaluations of nominally democratic institutions. Theoretically, citizen satisfaction could impact institutions' survival, as incumbents' willingness to maintain them might diminish if popular support dissipates. In short, satisfaction with the performance of such institutions could be critical. However, although studies have examined the determinants of satisfaction in new democracies (Anderson et al. 2005; Anderson and Tverdova 2001; Curini et al. 2012; Dahlberg, Linde, and Holmberg, forthcoming; Doorenspleet 2012), very few have included transitional countries. Such systems, which are defined as having undergone recent political reforms while not achieving democratic status, could be particularly vulnerable to institutional collapse. However, popular satisfaction with nominally democratic institutions could lead citizens to defend their existence and perhaps to demand more meaningful participation and accountability. In short, there is a particular need to study determinants of attitudes about institutions in less-than-fully-democratic settings because of the potential for democratic development or decay there, yet these are the very cases in which our understanding of regime satisfaction is most limited.

Here, we focus on how elections in transitional settings impact satisfaction with democratic institutions. First, we hypothesize that electoral outcomes in transitional settings will function much as others have found they do in more competitive ones: supporters of losing candidates will have lower satisfaction after the election than they did previously (see, inter alia, Anderson et al. 2005). This relationship will hold despite the fact that losing should hardly be surprising to opposition supporters in such environments, where incumbents have often had serious advantages for years; the psychological effect of losses might be cumulative, elections might highlight the only-nominal status of democratic institutions, and opposition supporters' expectations for change might have been raised by the fervent campaigning that often precedes elections.

Second, unlike others who have studied participation, we expect that its effects on satisfaction will be contingent on political status. Although existing theory posits that participation might have myriad democracy-enhancing benefits, we anticipate that, for losers, higher levels of participation will be associated with decreased, rather than increased, satisfaction. More-participatory losers experience greater psychological costs than their lessinvolved counterparts.

We test these hypotheses with panel data collected in Uganda surrounding the 2010-2011 campaign. Uganda fits the "transitional" classification well, in that it has recently undergone significant political reforms-it only began allowing parties to compete in elections in 2006, after a two-decade ban-whereas most observers characterize the country as facing serious democratic deficits (Tripp 2010).

Our results indicate that, over the course of the study period, important inter- and intraindividual variation in Ugandans' democratic satisfaction existed. As expected, voting for a losing presidential candidate is associated with significant declines in satisfaction. The result holds for individuals who switched to an opposition candidate during the campaign, as well as for those who remained opposition supporters throughout. …

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