Does Public Support for Judicial Power Depend on Who is in Political Power? Testing a Theory of Partisan Alignment in Africa

Does Public Support for Judicial Power Depend on Who is in Political Power? Testing a Theory of Partisan Alignment in Africa

By Brandon L. Bartels, George Washington University and Eric Kramon, George Washington University

Judicial power is central to democratic consolidation and the rule of law. Public support is critical for establishing and protecting it. Conventional wisdom holds that this support is rooted in apolitical factors and not dependent on who is in political power. By contrast, we argue that support may be driven by instrumental partisan motivations and therefore linked to partisan alignment with the executive. We test the argument with survey evidence from 34 African countries. To provide causal evidence, we conduct difference-in-differences analyses leveraging Ghana’s three presidential transitions since 2000. Across Africa, support for judicial power is high, while trust in courts is lower. However, presidential co-partisans are less supportive of horizontal judicial power over the president and more supportive of vertical power over the people. The article demonstrates the importance of partisan alignment with the executive in shaping support for judicial power, with implications for judicial behavior and legitimacy.

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