What the election polls are really telling us

In just over a week from now, we will know which polls were correct about the election outcome. Whatever the support for the different parties will be, politicians will have to shape up, writes Melanie Verwoerd.

Over the last few months there have been various opinion polls trying to predict the outcome of the election next week.

Peculiarly, there have been vast differences in the outcomes of these polls – especially in terms of support for the ANC. In the last two days alone two polls showed a difference of 10% in the ANC's support base.

Ipsos polled political support amongst a representative sample of 3 600 registered voters. The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) did a similar poll amongst 2 500 voters. Ipsos' poll found 61 % support for the ANC; the IRR 51% – a 10% difference. There was less of a discrepancy when it came to support for the DA, with Ipsos polling their support at 19% and the IRR at 23%. Similarly with the EFF, Ipsos found 11% support and the IRR, 14%.

READ: Dawie Scholtz - The IRR's bombshell election poll results are mind-blowing

Although all reputable polls would ensure that their polling sample is representative of race, gender and class, there are a number of other factors that could explain polling differences – one being geographical spread. If, for example, a poll interviews proportionally more registered voters in Gauteng and the Western Cape, they will get a very different result from one that polls more heavily in KZN and Mpumalanga.

The method of polling can also distort the outcome. It is well-known that during face-to-face interviews ANC voters tend to be more forthright about their preferences, thus resulting in a more favourable outcome for the ANC. Phone polling is cheaper to do but tends to favour the DA.

It is therefore worthwhile mentioning that the IRR conducted a telephone poll whereas Ipsos did face-to-face polling, which might explain at least some of the differences between these polls.

There are many other factors that could have played a roll such as when the polls were conducted, the manner in which questions were phrased, whether "undecided" voters were allocated to political parties, as well as the rural-urban spread.

Whatever the case may be, one of these polls will be proven wrong ten days from now.

Be that as it may, the polls have revealed other insights into the political and social landscape of South Africa which could be far more important than the predicted outcome of political party support.

For example, MarkData showed very strong disillusionment in the political process. This was supported by the recent Ipsos poll which showed that 37% (more than a third) of respondents said that no political party represents their views.

Another worryingly – albeit unsurprising – result was the lack of trust in the political leaders. Opinion polls measure trust by asking respondents whether they trust a political party or politician. The party or politician's approval/trust rating is then determined by deducting the number of those who express distrust/disapproval from the number of those who indicated trust/approval.

In the Ipsos trust index Cyril Ramaphosa scored a net approval rating of 40, whilst Mmusi Maimane and Julius Malema scored negative numbers of -37 and -44, respectively. In other words, significantly more people indicated that they distrusted rather than trusted Maimane and Malema.

(It is worthwhile mentioning that their approval ratings were significantly higher when only their own supporters were polled. Ramaphosa was at 86, Maimane at 80 and Malema at 88.)

Although these figures should concern all political leaders, there is one result in particular that should make all politicians sit up.

Ipsos asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: "The way to get service delivery is through violent protests." 40% of respondents agreed with this statement whilst 42% (only 2% more) disagreed.

This result seems to indicate that just under 50% of people in this country believe that the only way to get basic service delivery is through protest action, specifically violent protest action.

ALSO READ: The 5 townships that could tip Gauteng

Of course this belief is linked to the populous' increasing disillusionment with politicians and the lack of faith in their ability or willingness to deliver the most basic of services to the voters of this country.

This does not bode well for the future and would suggest that the current spate of violent protests will not abate after the elections. In fact, it is likely to increase both in frequency and propensity to violence.

In just over a week from now, we will know the outcome of the election (and which polls were correct). Whatever the support for the different parties will be, politicians across the political spectrum will have to shape up. As in any human relationship, once trust is broken it is not easily recovered. However, politicians will have to work hard to do so, because if there is one thing that all the polls agree on it is that the people of South Africa will no longer wait patiently for basic services whilst politicians enrich themselves.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Find everything you need to know about the 2019 National and Provincial Government Elections at our News24 Elections site, including the latest news and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3 elections. Make sure your News24 app is updated to access all our elections coverage in one place. 
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