How the DA could win Nelson Mandela Bay

2016-07-04 07:43
 ~ (AFP)

Port Elizabeth - Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) is emerging as the most hotly-contested metro of the 2016 local government elections. For the last three elections (2009, 2011 and 2014), the ANC has hovered around 50% of the vote in the metro, notably dipping to as low as 48.8% in 2014.

The first – and only - public polling conducted this year in NMB, Ipsos's running tracking poll, also suggests the ANC is very vulnerable in the metro. The latest figures indicate a 10% lead for the DA in the metro at 37% for the DA to 27% for the ANC. The Ipsos poll is a very good sign for the DA, but it is still unclear how the election will shake out given the very high number of undecided voters left in the poll.

- Election Map: Voting shifts in NMB

- ANC results for NMB

- DA results for NMB

- Previous results for NMB

But by looking at previous election outcomes, we can estimate possible election results for August. An analysis of the voting patterns from the last two elections and the latest registration weekends suggests that the DA has a very real chance of winning the most votes in the metro on August 3.

The DA won the registration weekends

The NMB metro has roughly 250 voting districts (VDs) and 610 000 registered voters. The 250 voting districts can be split into three distinct groups: Solid DA districts (where the DA wins with 75%+), solid ANC districts (where the ANC wins with 75%+) and marginal districts (where a party wins with less than 75%). The three groups of districts have the following characteristics:

The ANC clearly has a natural advantage in NMB. But DA has made some quiet progress which puts it within striking distance for the first time.

In the last five years, the party has very systematically and effectively managed to get more and more voters registered in its solid districts, whilst the total number of voters in solid ANC districts has effectively stagnated. The table below indicates how the number of voters in the three portions of the city has evolved:

The DA base is getting bigger and bigger and the ANC base is stagnating. During this year’s registration weekends, roughly 10 000 new voters registered in strong DA areas, whilst essentially no new voters registered in strong ANC areas. This represents a relative swelling of the DA base.

How the DA could win

But even with the new, slightly-more-favourable electorate, the DA is still behind. If we simulate an election outcome assuming turnout similar to 2011 (the last local government election) and voting patterns similar to 2014 using the latest registration figures, the result is as follows:

The ANC still wins. This time with a reduced majority of just over 27 000 votes. But things have changed since 2014. The voting pattern is very likely to be less favourable to the ANC.

There are 5 plausible shifts that could take place that together will result in a DA victory.

1) Some disillusioned ANC voters stay home

President Jacob Zuma is very unpopular in NMB, and a number of ANC structures in the region has expressed their displeasure at the president for the various scandals he has been involved in. There is a real possibility that some of these voters could stay away.

In 2011, only 62% of voters in the ANC’s strongest areas turned out to vote. If this were to drop at all, the ANC could be in serious jeopardy.

2) Opposition voters turn out in droves

The crucial flipside to point 1 above, is that opposition voters need to turn out in big numbers for the DA to have a chance at winning NMB. In 2011, 67% of voters in the DA’s strongest areas turned out.

There is some evidence that opposition turnout will be high. President Zuma's approval ratings are at an all time low in all communities, and that could drive opposition turnout higher. The DA has also developed significant operational capacity to turn voters out in its strongest areas. A plausible DA victory scenario probably needs about 70% of voters in the DA’s strongest areas to turn out.

3) The DA grows in the townships 

In 2014, the DA received only 4% of the vote in the solid ANC VDs in NMB. The conventional wisdom is that the DA will do better this time around. Mmusi Maimane, the party’s first black leader, and has campaigned very vigorously in NMB; and the party’s mayoral candidate, Athol Trollip, has been campaigning for months in NMB’s townships. The latest Ipsos poll puts the DA’s support amongst black voters in NMB at 15%, which would represent a massive breakthrough for the party. If it gets only 8% of Ipsos's 15%, the DA will stand a very good change to win the election.

4) The EFF/UDM/United Front does relatively well

The ANC has traditionally produced huge margins in its solid districts in NMB. In 2011, it achieved an average of 87% of the vote in its solid districts. In 2014 the ANC only achieved 81% of the vote in its solid districts – due mostly to the marginal growth of the DA, a seemingly regional resurgence of the UDM and the emergence of the EFF.

If the DA grows in these areas and the EFF and UDM holds its own as expected, the ANC’s percentage in these areas could fall to the mid-70s. And that doesn’t take into consideration the formation of the United Front, which reportedly has massive backing amongst the Numsa-aligned unions in the region.

5) The DA consolidates the opposition vote

In 2011, the DA achieved 88% of the vote in the solid DA districts. In 2014, the DA achieved 85%, as some opposition voters opted for smaller opposition parties at the national and provincial level.

Opposition voters will have to be united if the DA is to win in NMB. And it is entirely plausible that this could happen as voters realise that the choice is essentially between ANC and DA governance in NMB. A DA victory probably requires 88 to 90% of opposition voters to support the DA. 

If we add all of these elements to the election simulation, we get a DA victory (but not a majority):

There clearly is a path to victory for the DA in NMB. But the path is narrow and requires a number of key developments (some of which are outside of the party’s control) to break its way.

It is also worth remembering that this projected outcome is based on a set of (relatively conservative) assumptions. We could see much more dramatic shifts taking place on Election Day. It is for example not inconceivable to see massive DA turnout of - say 75% - or very low ANC turnout as low as 50%, or both concurrently. It’s also not impossible for the ANC to do much better than anticipated despite the unpopularity of President Zuma. 

The election will very likely end up with both the ANC and DA somewhere in the 40s, with the winner largely being decided by which party’s base comes out in larger numbers.

- Dawie Scholtz holds an MBA from UCT and is currently studying towards a Master's Degree in advanced management at Yale University. He is a former DA employee.

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