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Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP08/2021
Publication date: October 2021


Citizens ought to hold the state accountable for service delivery. This is usually done through the power of the vote. Literature on democratic governance suggests that theoretically, when good quality public services are provided, citizens would continue to vote for the political party in power. Therefore, it is expected that the inverse would occur should poor quality public services be provided. However, surprising evidence has recently emerged to suggest that political accountability does not work as theory assumes, indicating a negative relationship between improvements in public service provision and support for the incumbent for Southern African democracies. Using a unique panel dataset, this study tests whether a breakdown in the relationship between public service delivery and voting behaviour in South Africa indeed exists. It further investigates whether this distortion is the result of South Africans’ preference to access other forms of political participation as a more effective route to political accountability, rather than voting in elections. The results seem to broadly confirm a breakdown in the relationship between improvements in public service provision and voting behaviour in South Africa. The findings suggest that South Africans consider protest action as an alternative route to political accountability. Furthermore, regression results provide some evidence to support the notion of spoiled ballots being a plausible alternative accountability route.

JEL Classification:

D72, H11, H41, H50


Accountability, elections, political participation, protest action, public service delivery, spoiled ballots, South Africa, voter turnout and voting behaviour.