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The 2016 local government elections have many dimensions to them. There are polls and calculations made as to how the elections would go. Political parties that are not faring well in the polls went into autopilot; dismissing any number-crunching work that does not favour their position.
The parties point to their own surveys that show a good picture. Interesting areas that have been polled towards the 2016 local government elections are Tshwane, the Nelson Mandela Bay, and also City of Johannesburg. These are considered to be highly contested metros in the 2016 elections. According to the Ipsos-ENCA 2016 municipal elections polls, the Democratic Alliance will lead the ANC in the three metros (Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay, and City of Johannesburg).
This is what was indicated when the poll was carried out, the picture might change as elections are coming closer and closer. For example, in the highly unlikely event that the ANC fires Zuma this Friday the picture might change. Let’s take these polls as they are, and see what we can make of them. Even before the polls, there has been speculation that the DA is making significant inroads into the ANC’s electoral base in the three metros. The speculations come from the voting patterns that were shown in the 2014 general elections.
Analyses of how people voted in the 2014 general elections show this trend of the surge by the DA, in these three metros. The 2014 elections have been reflected upon as helpful in understanding what is like to happen in the 2016 local government elections. The recent Ipsos-ENCA poll focuses particularly on the forthcoming local government elections. The picture painted by the polls is not far from what came from the analyses of patterns that were observed in voting districts where Tshwane, Johannesburg, and Nelson Mandela bay belong, respectively.
The problem with this system, and possibly with the Ipsos-ENCA polls, is that it tends to treat local government elections as sharing similar dynamics with general elections. There is no doubt that the ANC is in trouble and the people might be angry about the party’s record of delivery. It is however important to distinguish the impact of the reputation of the party on how people vote on one hand, and the impact of individual candidate councillors on how people votes. Consider the campaign strategy of the ANC in the city of Johannesburg, where the party is using the face of mayor parks Tau to contest the City.
The ANC as a party might be having credibility problems; but the candidate mayor, Parks Tau, has no credibility problems. He has performed very well in his first tenure as the mayor. The question the is whether the voters in the City of Johannesburg will be focusing on the image of the candidate mayor Tau, or if they will be focusing on the broader reputation of the party as represented through Zuma.
The same logic might appear in relation to Nelson Mandela Bay, where candidate mayor Danny Jordan has performed well in a short space of time and he might not incur associational risk by being an ANC candidate. Therefore, by not factoring him as a candidate in local government and focusing on the party only might give a misleading picture. Further, if individual candidates are less controversial, there is a possibility that some voters might overlook the crisis experienced by the party and focus on the candidate provided. The individual candidate might carry the party through.
Local government elections have both national and local dynamics infused together. The character of a political party as seen through its image at national level does matter at local government elections. Also important are councillors as individuals. There is no history of South Africans carefully splitting their votes between a ward candidate and a proportional representative (or party) vote. This means that one way or another, the vote will go together for a candidate and a PR. If the individual candidates show well during campaigning and get communities to overlook the party, those candidates might actually influence voters to then give the party the vote; to empower their councillors to pursue their mandate in councils. This is why it makes no sense to split the vote between ward councillor and PR list.
Municipal elections are more complex than national elections, and require nuances in trying to understand what might happen. National elections are not a predictor of local government elections. Polling companies need to factor in these nuances. Something that is clear to me is that one cannot call it with certainty.
- Ralph Mathekga is the head of political economy at MISTRA.
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