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More Opinion and Analysis

Elections 2014: The value of polls

2014-04-09 11:32
Pondering Panda conducts more interviews every day than any other research company in Africa. To date, we have completed more than six million interviews, using cellphones to obtain responses to our surveys. Using cellphones allows us to have a very wide national dispersion of respondents, essential to good sampling. However, our research is not without limitations, particularly when it comes to age. We concentrate on measuring the views of younger South Africans, from as young as 13, up to 34 years old. Because our technology requires the use of WAP enabled phones, we undersample poorer respondents in deep rural areas. Notwithstanding these limitations, what has our research gleaned, when it comes to the mind of the youth of this country, particularly when it comes to their political views, and likely voting patterns?

The first stark finding is the popularity of the EFF, with 25% of young South Africans choosing Julius Malema as the man they would most like to see running the country. Some people are taken aback when confronted by that figure, but I am surprised it is not even higher. Bear in mind that about two out of every three young South Africans are unemployed, and the populist manifesto of the EFF is guaranteed to find fertile ground. The EFF's heartland is amongst young black males. We know, from our surveys, that this segment of the population feels voiceless, and disempowered. Even the process of voting is seen as pointless by many, as nothing ever changes in their lives. Little wonder then, that the red berets provide the attraction of a newly formed tribe that might just produce some results. Whatever the EFF achieves, they can't be worse than the ANC, when it comes to providing opportunities for employment, identified as the top priority for the country by the youth, particularly black youth.

Our surveys reveal a very depressing reality. We have moved from a society that was reviled because people were classified as white or non-white, to a society that is segmented into blacks and non-blacks. Is this any less distasteful? And black means black black, not Indian, not coloured. Indians, coloureds and whites are grouped together in a segment that is increasingly ignored, when it comes to policy making by the ANC. Opinions of members of this segment are irrelevant, in the grand scheme of things, and definitely have little influence on the success or otherwise of the ANC come election time. So, why should the ANC care? 

In a society in which race plays such a major role, to predict political outcomes becomes relatively simple. Voters cast their ballots based on demographics, rather than the policies and values of political parties. As an example, the DA will be lucky to achieve a support base greater than 25%, given that their black support is tiny, in relative terms. The upper bound in their support is defined by race, rather than policies. With one in two young black South Africans believing that the DA would bring back apartheid if they came into power, what chance do they stand, in the bigger scheme of things? We quantified this resistance to the DA in a survey we conducted some time ago, with subsequent validation by the DA's own internal research, as reported in the Business Day in February. 

When I grew up, many years ago, under the National Party, I observed the power of the swart gevaar fear they invoked prior to every election. Regardless of the inefficiencies of their policies, swart gevaar was enough of a threat to drive the majority of the white electorate into the laager. The alternative, as described by the Nats, was too horrible to contemplate. Ironically, history is repeating itself. Instead of swart gevaar, we now have wit gevaar, carefully orchestrated by the ANC, and now the EFF. This fear works really well in terms of consolidating support, making it very difficult for the DA to come up with a credible response. Their protestations are simply not believed, and black members of the party are seen as puppets by the majority of black youth.

With ballots being cast on the basis of demographics, the EFF, if adequately organised, will hit the ANC hard in the young black segment. This makes slipping below the 60% support level a distinct possibility for the ANC. Which also then raises the question about what happens next. If the EFF performs credibly, which appears likely, we can expect a shift to the left from the ANC, with more populist policies being enacted. The EFF can expect support anywhere from 10% up, a big wake up for all South Africans. 

We are also seeing the emergence of tribal allegiance as a basis for casting votes. The support base for Zuma in KwaZulu Natal is off the scale, bordering on fanatical. No matter what the alleged wrongdoing of the President, all is forgiven, as revealed by our ongoing surveys. 

The most pertinent issue for arriving at a prediction of election results, is the turn-out on election day itself. Our surveys find large differences across the population groups. Younger whites and blacks are more enthusiastic about voting than are coloureds and Indians. Given the importance of the coloured voter base to the DA in the Western Cape, a poor turnout could have very negative consequences. If I were the DA, I would be studying the long range weather forecast very closely, to see whether rain is likely on 7 May. The DA could be hardest hit by poor voter turnout, as a result of bad weather. 

So, there it is. Voting will take place based on age and racial divisions, rather than on values and policies. A resistance to support for the DA amongst the majority of blacks. And the EFF likely to suprise on the upside. And what could be the most critical factor: Which demographic segments are most likely to actually cast their ballots on the day? Who is likely to throw in the towel, because they feel their voice is never heard, and voting is pointless? This election promises to be the most fascinating one to date in our democracy. Unfortunately, it could also be the most depressing.

TALKING ABOUT TURNOUT! Check out the voter turnout in 2009 by clicking here.


* Butch Rice is Zookeeper at Pondering Panda
** The views of columnists published on News24 are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
Read more on: pondering panda  |  da  |  anc  |  eff  |  elections 2014  |  politics  |  polls  |  research

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