The Implications of Social Context Partisan Homogeneity for Voting Behaviour: Survey Evidence from South Africa

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University of Cape Town

Due to the legacy of apartheid segregation South Africa remains a highly divided society where most voters live in politically homogenous social environments. This paper argues that political discussion within one’s social context plays a primary role in shaping political attitudes and vote choice in South Africa. Specifically, the extent of partisan homogeneity or heterogeneity within one’s social context has important, yet distinct implications for voting behaviour. Using data from the Comparative National Elections Project 2004 and 2009 South African post-election surveys, the paper explores the extent of social context partisan homogeneity in South Africa and finds that voters are not overly embedded in homogenous social contexts. The paper then demonstrates the consequences of partisan homogeneity on voting behavior. Homogenous social contexts tend to encourage stronger partisan loyalties and fewer defections in vote choice while people in more heterogeneous contexts show less consistency in their attitudes and behaviour during elections. Finally, the analysis shows how momentous socio-political events at the time of a particular election can change the nature of social contexts, with important consequences for electoral outcomes.