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SPP 313

Author: Michael Bratton
Description: Why, in a new African democracy, have citizens passed up opportunities for involvement in national political life? In explaining low levels of political participation in Zambia, this article tests competing arguments -- structural, cultural and institutional -- against original survey data. Participation is shaped most powerfully, however, by the availability of political institutions -- like voter registration, political parties and voluntary associations -- that link citizen to state. Gender is a better demographic predictor of participation than socio-economic status and attachments to traditional authority are conducive to political activism. While institutional considerations are more important than cultural values in explaining participation, the former do not entirely displace the latter. Instead, there is a synergistic relation between political party formation and citizen interest in politics in the early stages of building democracy. Theoretically, this finding suggests that the consolidation of political regimes, including democracy, is best conceived as a process of reciprocal co-determination between institution-building and cultural change.

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CSPP School of Government & Public Policy U. of Strathclyde Glasgow G1 1XQ Scotland