Taking to the Streets: Protest as an Expression of Political Preference in Africa

Adam S. Harris, Erin Hern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Between 2011 and 2014, there were 5 times as many protests per annum in Africa as there had been in 2000. The majority of these protests were related to deteriorating economic conditions, poor service delivery, inadequate wages, and economic inequality. These protests, which we term “valence protests,” do not fit easily into typical narratives about contentious behavior: they are neither social movements, nor revolutionary, nor a manifestation of organized labor—instead, many of these protests are a collective expression of a valence issue of which the government is well aware. We argue for a different conceptual framework for valence protests and contend that they are a way for politically engaged citizens to express their political preferences when voting is insufficient. Using Round 5 Afrobarometer data, we find empirical support for this claim. We also find that citizens more readily communicate political preferences through protest in countries governed by dominant parties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1169-1199
Number of pages31
JournalComparative Political Studies
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • African politics
  • political behavior
  • protest
  • valence protest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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