Social policy is a two-way street: shaped by political contexts, it also has the power to influence them. Government spending on social programmes like healthcare, welfare, and social protection shapes public perception. Voters often judge a government’s performance based on its investment in its citizens. Conversely, governments can strategically utilise social policy to influence voters’ behaviour.

Since 2017, Professor Leila Patel, Professor Social Development Studies & Collaborating Partner: SARCHI Chair in Welfare and Social Development , has spearheaded a research project since 2017 to investigate the factors shaping voter behaviour, focusing on the impact of social policy elements such as grant receipt. Results from the study have been published in 20172018, and 2019. Collecting and analysing longitudinal data allows for robust insights and trend identification.

Socio-economic well-being emerged as a predictor of party choice in the initial surveys but showed a diminished role in subsequent waves. An article co-authored by Professor Patel and Emeritus Professor Yolanda Sadie for the Journal of African Elections analysed the 2019 data, highlighting the evolving role of socio-economic factors in voter decision-making. A fourth dataset was collected in November 2020, with a focus on assessing the influence of COVID-19 on voter choice.

This ongoing research underscores the dynamic relationship between social policy and voter behaviour, highlighting the need for continued investigation into how policy decisions shape electoral outcomes.