Political analysts have long believed that sustaining democratic government in a poor society is harder than in a relatively wealthy one. This is a sobering thought for all those committed to democracy in Africa.Precisely why poverty undermines democracy, however, is much less clear. Perhaps poor people have far less time to devote to political participation. Or, given the imperative to satisfy basic survival, people may sacrifice “higher order” needs like self-government, freedom and equality. Or, poverty may inhibit modernization processes – like education, urbanization, or use of the mass media – that are commonly held to breed democratic values.Finally, perhaps poorer societies are less able to distribute wealth equitably and thereby to facilitate compromise in clashes over resources. To explore the political dynamics of poverty, we use data from seven 1999-2000 Afrobarometer surveys in Southern Africa to develop an index of poverty and then test its impact on political attitudes and behaviours critical to democracy.