Unfulfilled Expectations and Populist Politics: Examining the Emergence of the EFF in South Africa

Working paper 722
Author(s): 
Nonso Obikili
Publication date: 
January, 2018
The last decade has seen the resurgence of populism with South Africa not spared. In South Africa, the elections in 2014 saw the emergence of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which, through its own brand of populist politics, won over 6.5 percent of the vote making it the third largest party in the country. However, the question of what drives people towards populist parties in the South African context has not been answered. In this paper, I show that unfullled expectations, measured as the difference between wellbeing relative to expected wellbeing based on the level of education in the municipality, is a key indicator of the likelihood of voting for the EFF. I use the long-term decline in mining activity in South Africa as a source of exogenous variation in the likelihood of unfullled expectations. The results help explain some of the factors that lead to the emergence of populist parties.
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