Racial Isolation Drives Racial Voting: Evidence from the New South Africa

  • Daniel de KadtEmail author
  • Melissa L. Sands
Original Paper


How does local demographic context shape political behavior? We investigate how racial isolation, one of the natural consequences of structural segregation, is related to racial voting in South Africa. Using a variety of new datasets, which include for the first time high resolution census data from before the end of apartheid, we leverage plausibly exogenous variation in the extent to which local segregation persisted after the end of apartheid to study this relationship. Whites who are more isolated engage in more racial voting, measured as the probability of voting along racial lines, against black political parties. Using geo-referenced survey data for over 39,000 people we then present individual level evidence consistent with our findings, and discuss potential mechanisms.


Voting behavior Segregation Local context Identity Survey research South Africa 



Thank you to Matt Blackwell, Katherine Erickson, Elliott Green, and numerous anonymous reviewers for detailed commentary. Thank you to participants of MIT’s African Politics Group, the MIT Political Science Graduate Student Work in Progress seminar, Harvard’s Political Economy Workshop, the Boston Working Group on African Political Economy, the Harvard Meeting on Political Geography, and the American Economic Association Annual Meeting for valuable feedback. Thank you to Larry Zietsman and Izak van der Merwe for assistance with the 1991 census data, and to Helene Verhoef at Statistics South Africa for help with later census data. Thank you to James Aphane at the IEC for assistance with the 1999 election data. Thank you to the Human Sciences Research Council for making their survey data available, and to Benjamin Roberts for his assistance with that data. Thank you to Chris Wray and Samy Katumba of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory and Hayley Ivins Downes at Lightstone Property, for providing us access to transfer deeds data for Gauteng. Finally, thank you to Tammany Sandekadt for contributions during the revision process.

Supplementary material

11109_2019_9547_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 1318 kb)


  1. Abrajano, M. A., & Alvarez, R. M. (2005). A natural experiment of race-based and issue voting: The 2001 city of los angeles elections. Political Research Quarterly, 58(2), 203–218.Google Scholar
  2. Abrajano, M. A., Alvarez, R. M., & Nagler, J. (2008). The hispanic vote in the 2004 presidential election: Insecurity and moral concerns. The Journal of Politics, 70(02), 368–382.Google Scholar
  3. Adida, C. L., Combes, N., Lo, A., & Verink, A. (2016). The spousal bump do cross-ethnic marriages increase political support in multiethnic democracies? Comparative Political Studies, 49, 635–661.Google Scholar
  4. Allport, G. W. (1979). The nature of prejudice. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  5. Ananat, E. O. (2011). The wrong side (s) of the tracks: The causal effects of racial segregation on urban poverty and inequality. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 3, 34–66.Google Scholar
  6. Ananat, E. O., & Washington, E. (2009). Segregation and black political efficacy. Journal of Public Economics, 93(5), 807–822.Google Scholar
  7. Bates, R. H. (1983). Modernization, ethnic competition, and the rationality of politics in contemporary Africa. State Versus Ethnic Claims: African Policy Dilemmas, 152, 171.Google Scholar
  8. Bhavnani, R., Donnay, K., Miodownik, D., Mor, M., & Helbing, D. (2014). Group segregation and urban violence. American Journal of Political Science, 58(1), 226–245.Google Scholar
  9. Boustan, L.P. (2013). Racial residential segregation in American cities. Technicl report, National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  10. Bratton, M., & Mattes, R. (2003). Support for economic reform? Popular attitudes in Southern Africa. World Development, 31(2), 303–323.Google Scholar
  11. Bratton, M., Bhavnani, R., & Chen, T. H. (2012). Voting intentions in Africa: Ethnic, economic or partisan? Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 50(1), 27–52.Google Scholar
  12. Burchfield, M., Overman, H. G., Puga, D., & Turner, M. A. (2006). Causes of sprawl: A portrait from space. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 121(2), 587–633.Google Scholar
  13. Carlson, E. (2015). Ethnic voting and accountability in Africa: A choice experiment in Uganda. World Politics, 67(02), 353–385.Google Scholar
  14. Christopher, A. (2001). Urban segregation in post-apartheid South Africa. Urban Studies, 38(3), 449–466.Google Scholar
  15. Christopher, A. J. (1990). Apartheid and urban segregation levels in South Africa. Urban Studies, 27(3), 421–440.Google Scholar
  16. Christopher, A. J. (1994). The atlas of apartheid. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Clark, W. A., & Rivers, N. (2013). Community choice in large cities: Selectivity and ethnic sorting across neighbourhoods. Understanding Neighbourhood Dynamics (pp. 255–279). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  18. Davies, R. (1967). The South African urban hierarchy. South African Geographical Journal, 49(1), 9–20.Google Scholar
  19. Davies, R. J. (1981). The spatial formation of the South African city. GeoJournal, 2(2), 59–72.Google Scholar
  20. De Kadt, D., & Lieberman, E.S. (2018). Nuanced accountability: Voter responses to service delivery in Southern Africa. Technical reportGoogle Scholar
  21. Dunning, T., & Harrison, L. (2010). Cross-cutting cleavages and ethnic voting: An experimental study of cousinage in mali. American Political Science Review, 104(01), 21–39.Google Scholar
  22. Edwards, I. (1994). Cato manor: Cruel past, pivotal future. Review of African Political Economy, 21(61), 415–427.Google Scholar
  23. Eifert, B., Miguel, E., & Posner, D. N. (2010). Political competition and ethnic identification in Africa. American Journal of Political Science, 54(2), 494–510.Google Scholar
  24. Enos, R. D. (2014a). Causal effect of intergroup contact on exclusionary attitudes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences United States of America, 111(10), 3699–3704.Google Scholar
  25. Enos, R. D. (2014b). What the demolition of public housing teaches us about the impact of racial threat on political behavior. American Journal of Political Science, 60, 123–142.Google Scholar
  26. Enos, R. D. (2017). The space between us: Social geography and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Enos, R.D., Kaufman, A.R., & Sands, M.L. (2017). Can violent protest change local policy support? evidence from the aftermath of the 1992 los angeles riot. In: Urban Political Economy Conference, Vanderbilt University.Google Scholar
  28. Evans, I. T. (1997). Bureaucracy and race: Native administration in South Africa (Vol. 53). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  29. Ferree, K. E. (2006). Explaining South Africa’s racial census. Journal of Politics, 68(4), 803–815.Google Scholar
  30. Ferree, K. E. (2010). Framing the race in south africa: the political origins of racial census elections. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Friedman, S. (2004). Why we vote: The issue of identity. Election Synopsis, 1(2), 2–4.Google Scholar
  32. Gaertner, L., Sedikides, C., & Graetz, K. (1999). In search of self-definition: Motivational primacy of the individual self, motivational primacy of the collective self, or contextual primacy? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(1), 5.Google Scholar
  33. Gibson, J. L., & Claassen, C. (2010). Racial reconciliation in South Africa: Interracial contact and changes over time. Journal of Social Issues, 66(2), 255–272.Google Scholar
  34. Gibson, J. L., & Gouws, A. (2005). Overcoming intolerance in South Africa: Experiments in democratic persuasion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Hopkins, D. J. (2010). Politicized places: Explaining where and when immigrants provoke local opposition. American Political Science Review, 104(01), 40–60.Google Scholar
  36. Horowitz, D. L. (1985). Ethnic groups in conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  37. HSRC. (2004–2011). South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS) rounds 2–9, 2003–2011. Technical report, Pretoria South Africa: Human Sciences Research Council [producer],
  38. Ichino, N., & Nathan, N. L. (2013). Crossing the line: Local ethnic geography and voting in Ghana. American Political Science Review, 107(02), 344–361.Google Scholar
  39. Ihlanfeldt, K. R., & Scafidi, B. (2002). Black self-segregation as a cause of housing segregation: Evidence from the multi-city study of urban inequality. Journal of Urban Economics, 51(2), 366–390.Google Scholar
  40. Ishiyama, J. (2012). Explaining ethnic bloc voting in Africa. Democratization, 19(4), 761–788.Google Scholar
  41. Johnson, R. W., & Schlemmer, L. (1996). Launching democracy in South Africa: The first open election, April 1994. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Kasara, K. (2013). Separate and suspicious: Local social and political context and ethnic tolerance in kenya. The Journal of Politics, 75(04), 921–936.Google Scholar
  43. Kasara, K. (2014). Does local ethnic segregation lead to violence? Evidence from Kenya.Google Scholar
  44. Khan, S., & Maharaj, B. (1998). Restructuring the apartheid city. Urban forum (Vol. 9, pp. 197–223). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  45. Kinder, D. R., & Sears, D. O. (1981). Prejudice and politics: Symbolic racism versus racial threats to the good life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40(3), 414.Google Scholar
  46. Kuper, L., Watts, H.L., & Davies, R. (1958). Durban: a study in racial ecology. J. Cape.Google Scholar
  47. Lemanski, C. (2006a). The impact of residential desegregation on social integration: Evidence from a south african neighbourhood. Geoforum, 37(3), 417–435.Google Scholar
  48. Lemanski, C. (2006b). Spaces of exclusivity or connection? Linkages between a gated community and its poorer neighbour in a cape town master plan development. Urban Studies, 43(2), 397–420.Google Scholar
  49. Lieberman, E. S., & McClendon, G. H. (2013). The ethnicity-policy preference link in sub-Saharan Africa. Comparative Political Studies, 46(5), 574–602.Google Scholar
  50. Lodge, T. (1999). Consolidating democracy: South Africa’s second popular election. Berkeley: Witwatersrand University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Louw, P. E. (2000). South Africa’s second post-apartheid elections: A reaffirmation of racial politics but a loosening of ethnic bonds. Australian Journal of International Affairs, 54(2), 217–238.Google Scholar
  52. Massey, D. S. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1988). The dimensions of residential segregation. Social Forces, 67(2), 281–315.Google Scholar
  54. Massey, D. S., Condran, G. A., & Denton, N. A. (1987). The effect of residential segregation on black social and economic well-being. Social Forces, 66(1), 29–56.Google Scholar
  55. Mattes, R., & Piombo, J. (2001). Opposition parties and the voters in South Africa’s general election of 1999. Democratization, 8(3), 101–128.Google Scholar
  56. Mattes, R.B. (1995). The election book: Judgement and choice in South Africa’s 1994 election. IDASA, Public Information Centre.Google Scholar
  57. Morris, A. (1994). The desegregation of Hillbrow, Johannesburg, 1978–1982. Urban Studies, 31(6), 821–834.Google Scholar
  58. Nathan, N. L. (2016a). Does participation reinforce patronage? Policy preferences, turnout and class in urban Ghana. British Journal of Political Science, 2016, 1–27.Google Scholar
  59. Nathan, N. L. (2016b). Local ethnic geography, expectations of favoritism, and voting in urban Ghana. Comparative Political Studies, 49(14), 1896–1929.Google Scholar
  60. Nunn, N., & Puga, D. (2012). Ruggedness: The blessing of bad geography in Africa. Review of Economics and Statistics, 94(1), 20–36.Google Scholar
  61. Oldfield, S. (2004). Urban networks, community organising and race: an analysis of racial integration in a desegregated south african neighbourhood. Geoforum, 35(2), 189–201.Google Scholar
  62. Oliver, J. E. (1999). The effects of metropolitan economic segregation on local civic participation. American Journal of Political Science, 1, 186–212.Google Scholar
  63. Posner, D. N. (2004). The political salience of cultural difference: Why chewas and tumbukas are allies in Zambia and adversaries in Malawi. American Political Science Review, 98(4), 529–545.Google Scholar
  64. Posner, D. N., & Simon, D. J. (2002). Economic conditions and incumbent support in Africa’s new democracies evidence from Zambia. Comparative Political Studies, 35(3), 313–336.Google Scholar
  65. Riley, S. J., DeGloria, S. D., & Elliot, R. (1999). A terrain ruggedness index that quantifies topographic heterogeneity. intermountain Journal of sciences, 5(1–4), 23–27.Google Scholar
  66. Saff, G. (1998). The effects of informal settlement on suburban property values in Cape Town, South Africa. The Professional Geographer, 50(4), 449–464.Google Scholar
  67. Sands, M. L. (2017). Exposure to inequality affects support for redistribution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences United States of America, 114(4), 663–668.Google Scholar
  68. Scacco, A., & Warren, S. S. (2018). Can social contact reduce prejudice and discrimination? evidence from a field experiment in Nigeria. American Political Science Review, 112(3), 1–24.Google Scholar
  69. Schelling, T. C. (1971). Dynamic models of segregation. Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 1(2), 143–186.Google Scholar
  70. Seekings, J. (2008). The continuing salience of race: Discrimination and diversity in South Africa. Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 26(1), 1–25.Google Scholar
  71. Smith, H. J., & Tyler, T. R. (1996). Justice and power: When will justice concerns encourage the advantaged to support policies which redistribute economic resources and the disadvantaged to willingly obey the law? European Journal of Social Psychology, 26(2), 171–200.Google Scholar
  72. Sparks, A. H. (1990). The mind of South Africa (Vol. 155). London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  73. Telles, E. E. (1992). Residential segregation by skin color in Brazil. American Sociological Review, 52, 186–197.Google Scholar
  74. Teppo, A. (2004). The making of a good white: A historical ethnography of the rehabilitation of poor whites in a suburb of Cape Town.Google Scholar
  75. Trounstine, J. (2016). Segregation and inequality in public goods. American Journal of Political Science, 60(3), 709–725.Google Scholar
  76. Trounstine, J. (2018). Segregation by design: Local politics and inequality in American cities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  77. Weghorst, K. R., & Lindberg, S. I. (2013). What drives the swing voter in Africa? American Journal of Political Science, 57(3), 717–734.Google Scholar
  78. Worden, N. (2011). The making of modern South Africa: Conquest, apartheid, democracy. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  79. Young, C. (1976). The politics of cultural pluralism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  80. Young, C. (1979). The politics of cultural pluralism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  81. Zorlu, A., & Latten, J. (2009). Ethnic sorting in the netherlands. Urban Studies, 46(9), 1899–1923.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California, MercedMercedUSA

Personalised recommendations