One significant barrier to sexual minority rights in Africa is the generally negative attitudes ordinary Africans have toward same-sex relationships. Yet since 1998, there has been notable progress in terms of legalizing same-sex relationships on the continent, with Botswana the most recent African country to do so, in 2019. Botswana joins Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Lesotho, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, and South Africa, among countries that have decriminalized same-sex relationships. Publicly available cross-national survey data measuring citizen’s attitudes toward homosexuality in 41 African countries from 1982 to 2018 shows that, on average, Africans hold negative attitudes toward same-sex relationships, which is consistent with previous reports. However, there is variation in these attitudes, suggesting greater tolerance of sexual minorities among women, people who use the Internet more frequently, and urban residents. One key finding is that homophobia is not universal in Africa. In light of recent policy and legal developments advancing sexual minority rights, and given findings in existing scholarship highlighting the influence politicians have in politicizing homophobia, the literature questioning the generalized notion of a “homophobic Africa” is growing, and there are calls for more research on the factors influencing decriminalization.
Kim Yi Dionne and Boniface Dulani
Jocelyn M. Boryczka
Capturing the nuanced attitudes toward LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people and rights in Africa involves examining them from within and outside the African context. Constructions of the entire African continent as holding negative attitudes toward LGBT peoples and denying them any rights remain quite commonplace across the Global North. However, closer analysis of specific nation-states and regions complicates our understanding of LGBT people and rights in Africa. Advances in the global study of LGBT attitudes through tools such as the Global LGBTI Inclusion Index and the Global Acceptance Index survey African peoples’ beliefs about LGBT communities. These measures locate African attitudes about LGBT peoples within a comparative context to decenter assumptions and many inaccurate, often colonialist, constructions. Attitudinal measures also expose the gap between legislation securing formal rights and the beliefs driving peoples’ everyday practices. These measures further specify how African governments can, often in response to Western political and economic forces, leverage homophobia on a national level to serve their interests despite a misalignment with the population’s attitudes toward LGBT peoples. Nongovernmental organizations and advocates raise awareness about LGBT rights and issues to impact socialization processes that shape these attitudes to generate political, social, and economic change. A rights-based approach and research on attitudes emerging from the African context represent shifts critical to better understanding how LGBT peoples and rights can be more effectively advanced across the continent.
Survey evidence indicates that political corruption is more prevalent in Africa than in any other global region, though there is also evidence of considerable variation between countries in degrees of corruption and where it is most likely to be located. Traditional explanations for the frequency of corrupt political behavior emphasized the effects of conflicting values that were a consequence of the imposition of modern forms of bureaucratic government upon societies in which authority rested upon personalized relationships. Contemporary African corruption’s historic roots and its variation across the continent may be the effect of the disjuncture or “incongruency” between colonial and successor postcolonial states and the precolonial political settings upon which they were imposed. Modern neo-patrimonialism is a coping response by rulers and citizens to conditions fostered by economic scarcity and institutional incapacity. Since the 1990s, democratization and liberalization have supplied fresh incentives and opportunities for venal politicians and officials. And even among Africa’s more capable and resourceful states, the institutional fluidity generated by democratic transition and economic reform has opened up possibilities of systematically organized state capture. Consequences of corruption certainly further impoverish poor people, and it is likely that corruption also limits economic growth and distorts government efforts to promote development. It is arguable that in the past, corruption may have helped to facilitate political stability but this is less likely in 2018, as evidence emerges of its corrosive effects on public trust in institutions. African anti-corruption efforts are constrained by the extent to which political power is exercised through patronage but there are instances of successful action, sometimes the byproduct of factional struggles within the political elite. As of 2018, there is no clear evidence of trends in success or failure in the work of African anti-corruption agencies.
Political scientists use the concept of legitimacy to assess the rightfulness of political rule. Their research can approach legitimacy from two perspectives: When taking a normative approach, political scientists develop and justify their own evaluation of the rightfulness of political arrangements. When taking an empirical approach, they study how other people—such as political elites or citizens—evaluate the rightfulness of political rule. Both approaches have been used in research on the European Union. Scholarly discussions that approach the EU’s legitimacy from a normative perspective revolve around the question of which standards of rightfulness are appropriate for the EU. These depend largely on how the EU polity is conceptualized: as a technocratic regulatory agency, an intergovernmental organization, a federation, a demoi-cracy, or a system of multilevel governance. Since the EU is hybrid polity that possesses elements of each of these models, and is therefore difficult to classify, no consensus has emerged in this debate. Scholarship that approaches the EU’s legitimacy as an empirical phenomenon examines political attitudes and discourses in European society, asking whether, and why, societal actors treat the EU as legitimate. A diverse set of research methods—including public opinion surveys, content analysis of different kinds of texts, and qualitative interviews with citizens—have been applied to shed light on this question. While this research has not provided clear evidence of a “legitimacy crisis” of the EU, it does show that many Europeans relate to the EU with a sense of diffuse unease and skepticism, in part because they find it opaque and difficult to understand.
Dramatic changes in the way the public acquires information and formulates its attitudes have potentially altered the opinion and foreign policy relationship. While traditional approaches have treated public opinion on domestic and foreign matters as largely distinct, the culmination of a series of changes may eliminate the effective distinction between foreign and domestic policy, at least in terms of how the American political system operates. All the factors central to the opinion and foreign policy process, such as information acquisition, attitude formation, media effects, the effect of opinion on policy, and presidential leadership now appear to mirror the processes observed at the domestic level. This analysis reviews historical trends in the literature on public opinion and foreign policy that has focused on the rationality of the public’s opinions, the structure of its attitudes, and its influence on foreign policymaking. The traditional Almond-Lippmann consensus portrayed an emotional public with unstructured attitudes and little influence on foreign policy; however, revisionist views have described a reasonable public with largely structured views on foreign policy that can, at times, constrain and even drive those policies. More recently, the rise of “intermestic” issues, contain both domestic and international elements, such as globalization, inequality, terrorism, immigration, and climate change, have interacted to transform the domestic and international context. The bulk of this analysis highlights emerging new research directions that should be pursued in light of the changes. First, scholars should continue to evaluate the “who thinks what and why” questions with particular attention to differences between high- and low-information individuals, the effect of misinformation, and information sources. In doing so, research should build on research from non-American contexts that points to the important influences of societal and institutional factors. In addition to continued examination of traditional demographic factors such as partisanship and ideology, additional attention should turn to consider potential genetic and biological foundations of attitudes. Finally, researchers should continue to evaluate how the new media environment, including social media, affects how the public accesses information, how the media provides information, and how political elites attempt to shape both. Given these changes, scholars should consider whether it continues to make sense to treat public opinion dynamics regarding foreign policy as distinct from domestic policy and its implications.
Richard C. Eichenberg
Scholars and governments are interested in four sets of questions concerning public opinion on foreign policy and national security policy. First, what do public opinion polls measure? How do citizens, who are generally uninformed about foreign policy and world affairs, form opinions on these matters? Second, how rational is public opinion? Is it stable or volatile? Are opinions coherent? Do opinions plausibly reflect the flow of world events? Third, what factors influence the formation of citizen opinions? Specifically, what is the impact of fundamental attitudes toward war and military force, partisanship, ideology, and gender? Finally, how universal are the determinants of citizen opinion, especially on crucial issues of war and peace? Are the findings in global comparisons the same as those in the American or European contexts? Considerable scholarship has been devoted to these four questions. Scholars now characterize public opinion as rational, in the sense that it is fairly stable, coherent, and responsive to real world events. Attitudes toward war and military force are a major focus of the research literature because many specific policy attitudes flow from fundamental views of war. Gender has also become a major focus of research because many studies find that women are less supportive of the use of military force for most purposes. Finally, scholars are beginning to discover that some opinion patterns are universal across societies, while others are more affected by the individual characteristics of national societies. Studies of global public opinion have expanded greatly, with recent scholarship focusing on global attitudes toward gender equality, immigration, and climate change.
Despite predictions that urbanization, economic development and globalization would lead to the recession of religion from public life, populations around the world continue to be highly religious. This pattern holds in most parts of the Global South and also in some advanced industrial democracies in the North, including in the United States. In grappling with the influence (or lack thereof) of religion on political life, a growing body of literature pays attention to how clergy–congregant communication might shape listeners’ political attitudes and behaviors. Considerable debate remains as to whether clergy–congregant communication is likely to change political attitudes and behavior, but there is a greater consensus around the idea that exposure to religious communication can at the very least prime (that is, increase the salience of) certain considerations that in turn affect how people evaluate political issues and whether they participate in politics. Religious communication is more likely to exert a persuasive and a priming influence among those already inclined to select into the communication and when the source of the communication is credible. More research is needed on the duration of religious primes and on the effects of religious communication in different political and social contexts around the world.
In the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of public opinion surveys in Africa. While experts on economic development and health had long been collecting individual-, household-, and community-level data on the continent, efforts to gather information on what Africans thought about their governments, societies, and political and economic situations, more broadly, were limited before the late 1990s. Certainly, this expansion was enabled by the wave of political liberalizations that hit most African countries at the end of the Cold War, thus creating conditions under which citizens could be more open in discussing attitudes and behaviors, particularly with regard to politics. However, it also coincided with a growth in the popularity of public opinion surveys globally. The distribution of data-collection efforts has not been uniform across countries: more surveys have been conducted in countries with higher levels of economic development, political openness, and security, such as Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, than in more challenging settings, such as Eritrea, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thus, our knowledge of what Africans think about politics and economics varies significantly from country to country. Myriad organizations have been involved in these efforts. Academic organizations, both on the African continent and overseas, have been at the forefront of such work in Africa. The most prominent among these has been the Afrobarometer, which has conducted dozens of surveys, in about two thirds of the continent’s countries, since 1999. The majority of studies, however, are made up of contributions by other entities, including for-profit companies, media houses, and even political campaigns. In total, these surveys vary in their methodologies, focuses, quality, and the accessibility of their data for researchers, policymakers, and the general public. These developments have had significant impacts on academic studies, policymaking, and even countries’ domestic politics. Surveys have improved understandings of Africans’ attitudes, assessments of the status quos in their respective countries, decision-making processes, and hopes and priorities for the future. For academics, these data have provided new opportunities for testing theories—oftentimes upending or at least complicating extant conventional wisdom—and catalyzing the development of new research programs. Candidates and parties use enhanced understandings of the electorate to develop different persuasive strategies. Governments frequently attempt to control, limit, or strategically use survey enterprises. Media in some countries regularly report on popular attitudes and campaign-time “horse races.” In some instances, the release and interpretation of public opinion data have become quite politicized. And election observers frequently propose collection of public opinion data before elections as a guard against flagrant rigging. In sum, these developments have, in myriad ways, fundamentally changed how African countries are studied and governed.