South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS)

SASAS book cover

Tracking societal values in changing times The South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS) is a nationally representative, repeated cross-sectional survey that has been conducted annually by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) since 2003. The survey series charts and explains the interaction between the country’s changing institutions, its political and economic structures, and the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour patterns of its diverse populations.

Designed as a time series, SASAS is increasingly providing a unique, long-term account of the speed and direction of change in underlying public values and the social fabric of modern South Africa. SASAS thus represents a notable tool for monitoring evolving social, economic and political values among South Africans, but it also demonstrates promising utility as an anticipatory, or predictive, mechanism that can inform decision- and policy-making processes.

Each round of SASAS has been designed to yield a representative sample of between 3500-7000 individuals aged 16 and older, regardless of nationality or citizenship, in households which are geographically spread across the country’s nine provinces. The sample has been drawn from the HSRC’s Master Sample - a sampling frame that consists of 1 000 Population Census enumeration areas (EAs). Each SASAS round of interviewing consists of a sub-sample of 500 EAs drawn from the master sample, stratified by province, geographical sub-type and majority population group.

The SASAS questionnaire contains a standard ‘core’ set of demographic, behavioural and attitudinal variables, which is repeated each round, with the aim of monitoring change and continuity in a variety of social, economic and political values over time. In addition to the core module, each round of interviewing accommodates rotating modules on specific themes, the aim being to provide detailed attitudinal evidence to inform policy and academic debate.

In determining the thematic content of the survey, attempts are made to identify key perennial topics that would provide reliable and robust measures to shape our understanding of present-day South Africa and the processes of change within it. SASAS focuses on variations in culture and social structure within the country and aspires to be an instrument for identifying and interpreting long-term shifts in social circumstances and values, rather than simply monitoring short-term changes.

South African attitudes in international perspective

SASAS second book cover

Through SASAS, the country has become a formal member of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP). The ISSP is run by a group of research organisations, each of which undertakes to annually field an agreed module of questions on a chosen topic area. Each module is chosen for repetition at intervals to allow comparisons both between countries (membership currently stands at 45) and over time. By being a member of this long-standing, crossnational collaborative programme, we have been able to add an international perspective to the national study of South African attitudes. This allows us to continually question whether our society is exceptional by identifying commonalities and differences in values with other nations. The ISSP modules that have been included in SASAS to date are national identity (2003), citizenship (2004), work orientation (2005), the role of government (2006), leisure time and sports (2007) and religion (2008) and social inequality (2009). Future modules will focus on Environment (2010), Health (2011), Family, Work and Gender Roles (2012), and National Identity (2013).

In addition to ISSP, the SASAS is also increasingly developing closer linkages with the European Social Survey (ESS) by including common core items of interest, such as fear of crime and social trust, discussing the possibility of including ESS rotating modules on a periodic basis, and sharing methodological lessons in order to continually improve the science behind the survey series.