Battleground Gauteng will push ANC above or below 60%

ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa at the Limpopo ANC manifesto rollout (Twitter)
ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa at the Limpopo ANC manifesto rollout (Twitter)

In 2014, almost 24% of all votes were cast in Gauteng. With almost a quarter of all voters living in this province, it makes sense that they will determine the final composition of Parliament, writes Adriaan Basson.

With seven full weeks to go to the May 8 national and provincial elections, Gauteng is emerging as the clear battleground for the top three parties to significantly influence their numbers.

The ANC, DA and EFF are all counting on the country's economic heartland to increase their total votes from the last national election in 2014. In that election, the ANC obtained 62.15% of all votes, the DA 22.23% and the EFF 6.35%.

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With less than two months to go before we cast our votes, the ANC is in a spot of bother. Despite his best attempts to convince the country that he has invigorated the ANC, President Cyril Ramaphosa has not managed to bring the governing party's support up to 60%, according to a range of polls.

This week's release of candidate lists will do Ramaphosa no favours of turning the public sentiment in his favour.

All the polls by political parties and research institutions currently have the ANC around 55%, give or take a percentage point. The DA is polling at 22% and the EFF around 11%.

This is bad news for Ramaphosa, and he will have to turn on his best charm before May 8 if he wants to avoid being the first ANC leader on whose watch the party's national support dipped below 60%.

Yes, under Jacob Zuma the ANC's national support in the 2016 local government elections went down to 53.9%, but a municipal election is very different to a national election and traditionally has much lower voter turnout.

According to my information, Gauteng still has thousands of undecided voters who may swing to any of the three parties. Expect Ramaphosa, Mmusi Maimane and Julius Malema to spend a lot of time knocking on the doors of Gauteng residents in the next few weeks.

Let's look at the numbers. In 2014, almost 24% of all votes (4.4 million) were cast in Gauteng. With almost a quarter of all voters living in this province, it makes sense that they will determine the final composition of Parliament.

I don't expect any big surprises in any of the eight other provinces. The DA will win the Western Cape, while the ANC will govern the seven remaining provinces again, maybe with a slightly lower majority in the North West and Northern Cape.

But Gauteng is where it's at.

In 2014, the ANC pulled 54% of votes in this province, the DA 31% and the EFF 10%. If one tabulates the 2016 local election results – imperfect as they may be for a national election – the ANC went down to 46%, losing over 700 000 votes in the process.

The DA managed to increase their percentage of the votes to 37% and the EFF went up to 11% of the Gauteng vote in 2016.

Who are these 700 000+ ANC voters who deserted the party in 2016 and can Ramaphosa get them back?

Popular sentiment after the 2016 local election was that they were middle-class ANC supporters who grew "gatvol" with Zuma's reign of scandal and decided to rather stay away from the polls.

At the time, the Nkandla scandal and the Guptas were top of mind.

ALSO READ: Will the ANC dodge another bullet on election day?

Their votes didn't go to the DA or EFF. In fact, both these parties also received less votes in 2016 than in 2014 in Gauteng, albeit not at the scale the ANC suffered.

If indeed their non-voting was an anti-Zuma vote, it follows that the "lost" 700 000+ ANC voters would return to their "home" this year under Ramaphosa. The president built his business fortune in Gauteng and is undoubtedly a much more appealing candidate to Gauteng's middle-class than Zuma ever was.

But why isn't this showing in the polls? The ANC struggles to settle on 50% support in the Gauteng polling.

One explanation could be that these former ANC voters now live in metros run by the DA and are quite content with their lives under a DA administration. Another explanation could be that some of them are taking their votes to the EFF, for championing expropriation without compensation.

Or the truth may be something much more obvious; that they are still trying to figure out if the ANC of Zuma has really changed to the ANC of Ramaphosa, or if it's a case of same bus, different driver.

The inclusion of tainted, implicated, suspected and lying people high on the ANC's candidate lists hasn't done Ramaphosa's cause in Gauteng any favours.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24.

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