Are South Africa's youth 'good' engaged citizens? An application of Russel Dalton's 'good citizen' thesis

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ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Post 1994 South Africa has witnessed a decline in voter turnout, predominately among the youth. This decline in political participation matches the global trend of stagnating youth engagement in the political process across liberal democracies. The transition to a democratic regime in 1994 was accompanied by an expectation that the ‘born-free’ generation (those who came of age around 1994) would embody democratic values and be engaged in the political process, especially through periodic voting. This has not been the case. Young people vote at far lower rates than older people. This has raised concerns among South African scholars and political actors because young people are the numerically dominant age group in the electorate. Voting is traditionally perceived to be synonymous with political participation. This is accompanied with sentiments of obligation or duty to vote in terms of the dutiful good citizen. Thus, waning political participation, specifically among the young, undermines the legitimacy of a democracy. However, a growing revisionist explanation has been posed by scholars in recent years. It suggests that young people are engaged and active in forms of participation that are not traditional indicators of citizenship. One of these scholars includes American political scientist, Russell Dalton, who argues, based on the ‘good citizen’ thesis, that political participation is undergoing a transformation. Therefore, youth are not disengaging from the political participation. Instead, they have become ‘good’ and engaged citizens who prefer direct individualized forms of political action as opposed to electoral forms of political participation. This change, the thesis argues, is due to an alteration in citizenship norms. These studies have been conducted mainly in established democracies. With the assistance of the South African 2019 round of Comparative National Elections Project (CNEP) post-election survey dataset, this study seeks to fill this gap. Using a quantitative, cross-sectional approach, this study replicates Dalton’s (2016) ‘good citizen’ thesis and Martin’s (2012) Civic Voluntarism Model to examine firstly, patterns of political participation among young citizens, and secondly, reasons for their low electoral participation. suggest that the youth display low levels of participation rates. While electoral participation is still the preferred method compared to non-electoral/unconventional forms of political participation, youth are also engaging in other forms of unconventional forms of political participation in contrast to older people. The purpose of this research is to contribute towards the understanding of youth’s political participation and draw awareness to the need to expand the definition of political participation and good citizenship.
AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Om te stem word tradisioneel as sinoniem met politieke deelname beskou. Dit gaan gepaard met gevoelens van verpligting of plig ten opsigte van die pligsgetroue goeie burger. Afnemende politieke deelname, veral onder die jongmense, ondermyn dus die legitimiteit van 'n demokrasie. Geleerdes het die afgelope jare egter 'n groeiende revisionistiese verduideliking gelewer, wat daarop dui dat die jongmense betrokke en aktief is in vorme van deelname wat nie tradisionele aanduidings van burgerskap is nie. Een van hierdie geleerdes sluit in die Amerikaanse politieke wetenskaplike, Russell Dalton, wat op grond van die 'goeie burger’-proefskrif tesis beweer dat politieke deelname 'n transformasie ondergaan. Daarom ontkoppel die jeug nie van die politieke deelname nie. In plaas daarvan het hulle 'goeie' en betrokke burgers geword wat direkte geindividualiseerde vorme van politieke optrede verkies in teenstelling met kiesvorme van politieke deelname. Hierdie verandering, volgens die tesis, is te wyte aan 'n verandering in burgerskapnorme. Hierdie studies is hoofsaaklik in gevestigde demokrasiee uitgevoer. Met die hulp van die Suid-Afrikaanse 2019-rondte van die vergelykende nasionale verkiesingsprojek (CNEP) na-verkiesingsopnameset, wil hierdie studie hierdie leemte vul. Met behulp van 'n kwantitatiewe, dwarssnitbenadering, herhaal hierdie studie Dalton (2016) se 'goeie burger’-proefskrif en Martin (2012) se burgerlike vrywilligheidsmodel om eerstens patrone van politieke deelname onder jong burgers te ondersoek, en tweedens die redes vir hul lae verkiesingsdeelname. Bevindings dui daarop dat jongmense 'n lae vlak van deelname toon. Verkiesingsdeelname is die verkieslike metode in vergelyking met nie-elektorale/onkonvensionele vorme van politieke deelname. Uit 'n optimistiese uitkyk is jongmense besig met ander vorme van onkonvensionele vorme van politieke deelname. Hierdie frekwensies is hoer in teenstelling met ouer mense. Die doel van die navorsing is om by te dra tot die begrip van jeug se politieke deelname en bewustheid te vestig op die behoefte om die definisie van politieke deelname en goeie burgerskap uit te brei.
Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2022.
Political culture -- Youth -- South Africa, Comparative National Elections Project (CNEP), Democracy -- South Africa, South Africa -- Politics and government -- 1889-1994, Citizenship -- South Africa, Youth -- Political activity -- South Africa, Voluntarism -- South Africa, UCTD