Did Floor-crossing Alienate South African Voters? Evidence from Municipal Legislatures
Floor-crossing, the practice of defecting from one political party to join another, is common in democracies. While empirical research has answered a number of questions about the determinants of party switching and the motivations of party switchers, little is known about the consequences of floor-crossing in electoral democracies, especially for the voters who watch their elected representatives ‘switch uniforms’ in the middle of the game. From 2002 to 2008, floor-crossing was legal in South Africa and defections at all levels of government were numerous. Critics of the country's floor-crossing regime often speculated that rampant defections would drive voters away from the polls and undermine voters' trust and political engagement. This paper uses data cataloguing defections in municipal legislatures to assess the extent to which floor-crossing in South Africa may indeed have alienated voters. The paper finds strong evidence that floor-crossing may have suppressed voter turnout, at least in immediately subsequent elections, but only weak evidence to suggest that floor-crossing had any direct or lasting effect on voters' attitudes about government and the politicians who run it.
Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies
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