South Africa named as one of the most populist countries in the world

A new study has found that South Africa is one of the most populist countries in the world.

The study which was undertaken by the YouGov-Cambridge Centre and The Guardian aims to be the largest of its kind in the world, correlating attitudes and behaviour across myriad areas of life: from politics and democracy to food, travel and technology; from soft power and supra-nationalism to consumer habits and the environment.

The results are based on a survey of more than 25,000 people in over 23 different countries, with figures weighted to be representative of the online adult population.

The populist cohort in the Globalism Project has been defined by The Guardian based on respondents who answered “strongly agree” to both of the following statements:

  • “My country is divided between ordinary people and the corrupt elites who exploit them”;
  • “The will of the people should be the highest principle in this country’s politics”.

Brazil, which elected controversial president Jair Bolsonaro in 2018 was named as the most populist country in the survey, with 42% of the population saying they agreed.

It was followed closely by South Africa in second place with 39% of respondents stating that they strongly agreed with populist statements.

The Guardian reported that both countries have been rocked by a succession of corruption scandals in recent years, which has directly led to an increase in populist support.

Recent load shedding across the country is widely blamed on graft within Eskom while other failures to deliver basic services to tens of millions are also seen as a consequence of official corruption.

As a result, some 84% of South African respondents believe that the government is run by a few self-interested powers.

These figures could go some way towards explaining the recent success, in such diverse democracies across the world, of politicians who cast themselves as outsiders intent on dethroning corrupt elites on behalf of the overlooked masses, The Guardian said.

Rise of the EFF?

One person who may directly benefit from this rise in populism is the leader of the EFF, Julius Malema.

Founded in 2013, the EFF has yet to make a major electoral breakthrough. In 2014, however, they did win 6% of the national vote.

Alex Vines, director of the Africa programme at the Chatham House think tank in London, believes they are looking at perhaps 8%” in the coming polls.

Speaking to the Guardian, Ebrahim Rasool, a senior ANC election strategist, said that the ANC is aware of the challenge it faces to win back voters who have switched to the EFF.

“We are not dealing with just outraged, disillusioned young people but they have adopted the weapon of populism to bring onboard young people who are genuinely outraged,” he said.

South Africans will go to the polls on Wednesday 8 May.


Read: The ANC could drop below 50% in next month’s election: poll

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South Africa named as one of the most populist countries in the world