Town vs Country: African democracies benefit rural communities over urban voters

New research from Dr Robin Harding suggests that electoral competition in Africa benefits rural communities over urban ones.

In his forthcoming book, Rural Democracy: Elections and Development in Africa, Dr Harding’s research shows that democratic elections have led to a rise in access to education and healthy children – but only in rural areas.

In 27 countries, the rise of democratic transitions of power led to an improvement in the conditions for rural communities. However, these benefits have yet to reach urban populations. The Economist’s article, Vexed in the city, discusses the rising dissatisfaction in African democracies. The Economist explains how rural voters are prioritised over urban communities, referring to some of Dr Harding's research: “Urbanites have many reasons for being less likely than rural voters to back those in power. They have better access to news and can be organised more easily by activists. Using polls taken in 28 countries Mr Harding has found that city dwellers are on average five percentage points more likely to oppose the government than rural voters are. This is true even after controlling for age, gender, education and whether voters share the ethnicity of the country’s leader.”

The article goes on to argue that changing population demographics suggest that in future, political leaders will need to shift their focus to the increasing number of urban voters.

Dr Harding's research focuses primarily on the political economy of development in sub-Saharan Africa. In his most recent publication, ‘Who is Democracy Good For? Elections, Rural Bias, and Health and Education Outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa’, Dr Harding questions how African governments respond to democratic electoral competition, arguing "that democratic elections in Africa have also induced governments to compete for votes by providing basic services. One implication of this is a rural bias in the impact of democracy on basic health and education outcomes".

Robin Harding is Associate Professor of Government, Tutorial Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall