Journal Article
Opposition Parties and the Urban Poor in African Democracies

Africa’s urban poor increasingly represent a key constituency for electoral mobilization. Opposition parties, which are pivotal for democratic consolidation, have nevertheless exhibited disparate success at obtaining votes from this constituency. To explain why, this study focuses on the case of Zambia and draws on interviews with political elites as well as a survey of informal sector workers in Lusaka. Instead of vote buying, ethnic alignments, or economic voting, these data show that the urban poor’s voting decisions are related to the strategies used by political parties to incorporate them into the political arena. Opposition parties that employ populist strategies are more likely to win support from the urban poor than parties reliant on alternative modes of mobilization. The advantages of a populist strategy include greater differentiation from the myriad of purely personalistic parties in Africa and greater congruence with the policy priorities of the urban poor, including service delivery and jobs.