What is responsible for the decline of democratically dominant parties and the corresponding growth of competitive party systems? This article argues that, despite a ruling party's dominance, opposition forces can gain by winning important subnational offices and then creating a governance record that they can use to win new supporters. It focuses on South Africa as a paradigmatic dominant party system, tracing the increased competitiveness of elections in Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province between 1999 and 2010. These events show how party strategies may evolve, reflecting how party elites can learn from forming coalitions.
* Danielle Langfield is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org.