The majority of southern Africa's inhabitants are economically marginalised. Robert W. Cox's macro-theory of change suggests that the marginalised are a social force that could bring about political economic transformation from below. Other contemporary analysts also stress the importance of focusing on the marginalised as a source of social instability. The paper uses empirical data from the Afrobarometer (Round 1, 1999–2000) to investigate whether this expectation for the marginalised to act as a catalyst for change in seven southern African states is substantiated. The analysis shows that the political protest potential of the marginalised is lower than that of the economically integrated, that they are more tolerant of authoritarian political alternatives, and that they are not significantly more economically dissatisfied than other groups. They are also inclined to accord somewhat more legitimacy to the state than are the integrated. Societies where large parts of the population are poor and marginalised are thus not necessarily more prone to political instability in the form of protest actions (violent or non-violent). Those who are justly concerned about equity and greater inclusiveness must take cognisance of the need to access the profile of the marginalised.