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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 November 2019

George Washington University
George Washington University
*Brandon L. Bartels, Associate Professor of Political Science, George Washington University,
Eric Kramon, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, 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.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2019 

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We thank Celeste Arrington, Jeremy Horowitz, Kennedy Opalo, George Ofosu, David Szakonyi, and participants at the GWU Comparative Politics Workshop and the Cornell Institute for African Development conference on Democratic Backsliding in Africa. We are also grateful to the APSR editors and three anonymous reviewers for their very helpful feedback. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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