Explaining South Africa's Racial Census


Karen E. Ferree is assistant professor of political science, University of California–San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0521.


In all South African elections since 1994, race has been an overwhelming predictor of voting behavior for most of the South African electorate. This paper evaluates three explanations for this outcome: an expressive hypothesis, which sees voting as an act of identity expression; a politics-as-usual approach, which points to standard factors like policy preferences or performance evaluations; and a racial heuristics approach, which suggests that voters use race as a cognitive shortcut during elections. It finds that racial heuristics, combined with performance evaluations, provide the best explanation for South Africa's racial census.