In electoral autocracies, why do some citizens view the state as autocratic, while others see it as democratic and legitimate? Traditionally, indicators such as income and education have been the most important factors to explaining why different types of citizens understand politics. This paper argues that in electoral autocracies, we must also take into account the role of political geography. Opposition parties are often one of the only actors that provide information about the authoritarian nature of the regime, but their message tends to get quarantined within their strongholds. I argue that regardless of income, education, ethnicity, or access to government spending, citizens living in opposition strongholds should be far more likely to view the state as autocratic and illegitimate than citizens living in ruling party strongholds. I find evidence for this theory using Afrobarometer survey data paired with hand-coded constituency-level electoral returns from five electoral autocracies in sub-Saharan Africa.
Natalie Wenzell Letsa is a political scientist and the Wick Cary Assistant Professor of Political Economy in the Department of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Her work focuses on public opinion and political behavior in authoritarian regimes, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. She is also interested in macro-issues of regime stability and legitimization in non-democratic and transitioning regimes. Her work has appeared in Comparative Politics, The Journal of Modern African Studies, and Democratization.