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Beyond the binary: examining dynamic youth voterbehaviour in South Africa

The 2021 South African local government elections continued a trend of dissipating turnout among young voters. How should we assess this development?

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The youth, aged 18–34, constitute nearly a third of SA's adult population, and their voting decisions could have a decisive influence on electoral politics.  Of the nearly 1.8 million people in the 18–19-year-old age group eligible to vote in the last election, 90% did not register. Similarly, less than 20% of the population aged 20–34 registered to vote, in contrast to over 90% of the population aged 40 and older. As a result, there has been an overarching concern to analyse youth voter abstention.

This paper argues that youth electoral behaviour should be approached not as a binary of voter/abstainer, but be placed along a voting-behavioural continuum. Our analysis of UJ Election Survey and the South African Social Attitudes Survey data, supports concepts that function as markers along this continuum, including ‘loyal voters', ‘casual voters', ‘party-loyal abstainers' and ‘consistent abstainers', each with different underlying motivations. Ultimately, this dispels static notions, providing a more nuanced and complex picture of youth voter behaviour.


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To cite this article:

Martin Bekker, Carin Runciman & Benjamin Roberts (2022) Beyond the binary: examining dynamic youth voter behaviour in South Africa, Politikon, DOI: 10.1080/02589346.2022.2151687


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Taylor & Francis Online


DOI: 10.1080/02589346.2022.2151687