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ANC vs DA: The Politics of Perception

17 May 2013, 10:21

It’s becoming harder these days to find folks who openly state their affiliation to the ANC. Almost as hard as finding anyone willing to admit they voted for the Nats way back when. With luminaries like the Arch saying that their vote won’t go to the ruling party this time, opposition parties are brimming with a new-found optimism about garnering a more substantial part of the electoral cake in 2014.

The official opposition Democratic Alliance took a quarter of the vote in the 2011 municipal elections, and about 17% in the 2009 national election. It has a growing number of black supporters, but does appear to have problems in attracting large numbers of the majority population to its cause. Given the racialised nature of South African politics and the country’s traumatic past, this is unsurprising.

Surveys reveal a sharp divergence in perception between the views of black and white voters. While both groups cite unemployment as a pressing concern, black respondents list poverty alleviation as a critical issue while white interviewees regard crime in the same light. Can the DA convince the majority of voters that it is a party that has the interests of poor people at heart? Or will the perception of being a party of big business and privilege continue to hamstring its efforts?

More than 50% of voters reside in three provinces: Gauteng, Kwazulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. Any party that wants to make a big enough dent in the ANC’s majority must do substantially well in these areas. The ANC’s victory in KZN’s Umzimkhulu ward 18 by-election, where the incumbent lost his seat after changing from an independent to the DA,  raises serious questions about the official opposition’s ability to win hearts and minds where it matters.

An advertising campaign to position the DA as a party of the liberation struggle has been greeted with derision in the black media. The struggle wasn’t that long ago, folks. Black people know their history. As inept and factionalised and downright a shambles as the ANC is right now, it still has a powerful place in the hearts of every black voter out there. The DA cannot hope to win by default. Its leadership must understand that the identity of this nation, in the view of the majority, is inextricably linked to the ANC-for better or worse.

Its campaign strategy therefore has to resonate with the issues most critical to the voting public, most of whom are black and poor. Can the DA win over an electorate that appears sceptical about all the political parties?

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