Cape Town 2016: The making of an ANC disaster

2016-07-27 13:44
Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

The general consensus is that the ANC is in for a tough election in Cape Town this year. Ipsos, the only credible public pollster for this election, is so confident of a DA victory in Cape Town that it hasn’t even released any polling on Cape Town this year. 

The ANC similarly appears to have given up on winning the city this year given that the party has barely deployed any of its senior leadership to the city for campaign events. (By my count Gwede Mantashe has held one event and Jesse Duarte one other.)

An assessment of previous voting patterns and the latest voter registration figures illuminates why the ANC is in deep trouble in Cape Town. 

The Cape Town Electorate 

After the latest registration weekends, Cape Town has just under 2 million registered voters at 810 voting districts (VDs). These VDs can be split into three distinct groups:

1. Solid ANC VDs (where the ANC receives more than 70% of the vote)
2. Marginal VDs (everything in between) 
5. Solid DA VDs (where the DA receives more than 70% of the vote)

These groups of VDs have the following characteristics:

The DA has built a huge advantage in Cape Town, with its base now more than doubling the ANC base. This places the ANC at an enormous disadvantage, and all but rules out the possibility of an ANC victory in Cape Town at this point. 

But it wasn’t always this bad for the ANC in Cape Town. Over the last ten years, two trends have been tremendously damaging for the party, moving the metro further and further out of reach. 

Why the DA dominates

1. Voter registration:  The ANC’s first problem lies in voter registration. For the last several elections, the DA has consistently been able to register a disproportionately high number of new voters in its strong areas, while new registrations have lagged in strong ANC areas. This is probably due to the DA’s much-vaunted voter targeting and turnout operation in Cape Town, which is extremely effective at getting DA voters to the polls on registration weekends and election days. Over time, this creates an overall electorate that is much more heavily weighted in favour of the DA. Consider the numbers from this year’s voter registration weekends:

This is an appalling result for the ANC in Cape Town, and should raise very serious red flags for ANC strategists. There were essentially no new registrations in ANC areas, whilst 60 000 new voters registered in strong DA areas. That’s enough new likely DA voters to fill four new wards. Again, this is a testament to the DA’s organisational prowess in Cape Town.

2. Shift in the coloured community: This second problem should be of even greater concern to the ANC. The party’s support levels in Cape Town’s coloured community has been significantly eroded, with coloured voters now overwhelming backing the DA. Although it is difficult to produce scientific evidence of this shift without polling information, it becomes apparent when looking at election results in traditional coloured communities in the city. Areas like Mitchell’s Plain, Bonteheuwel, Athlone, Elsiesrivier and Macassar have moved from the "marginal" column to the "solid DA" column as the DA has racked up large 70%+ victories in these communities. 

Looking at particular VDs highlights this trend quite clearly. Consider for example what has happened in the last five elections at the Macassar Community Hall voting station:

Keep in mind that we are comparing across both local government elections and national government elections here and that there were various other parties in the mix throughout the years at this VD like the NNP and the ID. But despite those issues, the trend is very clear:  The DA has been on a steady incline, while the ANC has been on a steady decline. And this VD is certainly not unique. It is indicative of the broader trend in Cape Town. There are at least 300 other VDs that look pretty similar to this. 

Given these trends, the ANC is likely headed for a heavy defeat in Cape Town on 3 August. Conversely, the DA is set to achieve its highest-ever percentage in the city. 

Expectations for August

Although it’s pretty clear that the DA will win, the exact margin of victory will be determined by two factors: turnout in the various groups of VDs and parties’ performance in each of the groups of VDs. If we simulate the election outcome using the 2011 turnout pattern (the last local government election), the 2014 voting pattern across the city and the latest registration figures, the result is as follows:

This scenario (which assumes no further growth for the DA) produces an increased majority of almost 63% for the DA. But it’s likely that the voting pattern will be slightly more favourable for the DA in this election, particularly in the ANC’s strong areas where the DA is expected to make some inroads. 

- Election map: How the ANC did in 2011

In 2014, the DA achieved only 4% in strong ANC areas. There is every possibility that this could increase. I simulated a possible outcome making the following assumptions: 
1) The DA grows to 8% in the ANC’s strong areas
2) The DA grows slightly in the ‘marginal’ areas in Cape Town 
3) Turnout remains the same as in 2011

In this scenario, the result is as follows:

The DA majority grows to just under 65%, placing it very close to a two-thirds majority. This indicates that a slight over-performance for the DA in either turnout in its strong areas or the percentage it achieves in any of the groups of VDs could push it over the two-thirds majority level.  

In conclusion 

The DA is extremely likely to win the election in Cape Town with an outright majority, and the ANC has almost no chance of receiving anywhere close to 50% of the vote. The most interesting question is whether the DA majority will grow significantly, and if it does grow, whether it can reach a two-thirds majority. 

The DA’s ability to grow its majority will rely on turnout in its strongest areas and whether it is able to achieve some growth in the ANC’s strongest areas. Anecdotal evidence from the campaign trail and the registration weekends thus far suggests that it will achieve some success on both of those fronts. 

The DA is, therefore, well-positioned to grow its majority and perhaps even achieve a two-thirds majority in the City of Cape Town. It is difficult to see the ANC coming back from such a defeat without a radical reorganisation of the party in the Western Cape. 

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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