On 29 May, in Cape Town, the Institute for Security Studies, one of South Africa’s leading think tanks, in association with the Daily Maverick, co-hosted a seminar with a difference. Unlike the usual post-election roundup, this event, titled “A Tale of Two Elections: behind the data of SA’s 2014 polls”, was not just the usual gathering of talking heads, making the obvious, anodyne observations. There was thoroughly analysed data – and lots of it.
Collette Shulz-Herzenberg, Univ. of Cape Town post-doctoral research fellow, and Jonathan Faull, the ISS elections consultant, dug deep into all of the available statistical data to tease out insights about what actually happened on 7 May – and what it may indicate for the future of South Africa’s democratic processes. In the discussion period, the two speakers were part of a larger discussion that included political analyst Nick Borain as session respondent – as well as ISS’ Senior Research Fellow Judith February and Daily Maverick’s J. Brooks Spector.
The two speakers were tasked with examining what was the South African electorate’s real message on 7 May 2014. Which parties and politicians were the real winners – and losers – once all the ballots were counted; and, beyond the numbers and the winners’ lists, what larger lessons could already be learnt? To do this, Shulz-Herzenberg and Faull took on such questions such as whether there were gaps in the voter registration and turnout statistics: whether there actually two elections – an urban and a rural one; and what crucial trends major political parties need to take on board as they prepare for the 2016 local government elections.
Shulz-Herzenberg began with the question of just how solid the ANC’s win really was – and what that might mean for the future. She noted that the steady decrease in the election participation since 1994 had continued into the 2014 election. This voting percentage “actually obscures significant losses” for the ANC. According the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), 81% of the Voting Age Population (VAP) registered to vote in 2014 – 25.3m of a potential 31.4m voters.
However, those IEC’s figures are based on the 2011 population census and if one used the 2013 census estimate, the VAP was now some 32.7m. This meant around 78% of the VAP registered this year, even as almost 8m people did not register, a number significantly higher than the 6m from the IEC’s numbers. Moreover, if one looked at voting turnout as a proportion of VAP – a measure commonly used by other countries rather than straightforward turnout numbers – voter turnout had dropped from 86% in 1994, to 57% this year. As a result, Shulz-Herzenberg suggested the seemingly steady success of the ANC actually ignored the rise in the VAP and the rise in would-be voters who failed to participate in the election.
In his presentation, Jonathan Faull also deconstructed the ANC’s victory. His research looked at the increase in the number of people that registered to vote between 2009 and 2014, noting that, this year, the ANC lost 213,827 votes or 1.84% from the number of votes it had garnered in 2009. “That’s no train smash by any account,” but if one considered the number of new voters added on the electoral roll in the years between 2009 and 2014, the ANC had actually lost some 10.41% in support.
Crucially for the ANC’s future prospects, a substantial majority of newly registered voters are concentrated in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal – just coincidentally the two provinces that accounted for some 44% of all ANC votes in 2014. As a result, Faull argued, “what appears to be big gains (nationwide) are not so”.
Faull added that in the 2014 election, some 370,851 of the newly registered electorate voted for the ANC – and just under 75% of those came from KZN. By contrast, in the other provinces, the majority party “haemorrhaged on turnout”.
Faull added the ANC couldn’t rely on the on-going support of KZN, because additional support there is “running dry”. Why? In 2009, there was an extraordinary growth of 93.54% in the rural vote for the ANC in KZN but in 2014, that growth had slackened to 18%. This growth correlated with President Zuma’s rise to political power and this growth seems to have “disguised problems elsewhere for the party” as it slipped elsewhere. The party’s majority was, in fact, now at its smallest level since 1994.
By contrast, the opposition Democratic Alliance grew by an order of magnitude – from 2% to 22% in the same period. Faull observed the DA had certainly taken some of the ANC’s provincial votes – noting the party was now almost certainly “salivating” at a chance to gain ground beyond the Western Cape in the 2016 local government elections.
Shulz-Herzenberg also noted a decrease in the turnout in provinces – in particular where there are large rural populations, something that suggested increasingly disillusioned voters appear to be staying at home, succumbing to a “what’s the point syndrome”. By contrast, urban areas are where there is growth in voter numbers, the very same places where people are more exposed to political competition via the media. Shulz-Herzenberg said, “Political competition seems to be strengthening, perhaps only in urban metropolis.”
Commenting on these two presentations, Borain said the ANC must surely be acutely aware of these trends and data. “They will have their own strategists grinding through this data. We are not dealing with a static political ecology here. I imagine the ANC’s going to do some serious introspection now.” Borain added one could argue 2014’s election “was a perfect result, because it set up a really good contest for 2016.”
Faull added that turnout dynamics for the 2016 local government elections may well favour the DA – particularly because local government issues are usually felt in urban areas where the DA does better – for example, residents care about traffic lights, rubbish collection and service delivery issues. By contrast, in the country’s rural areas, local government measures have less of an effect than in urban areas. There, many rural voter concerns are actually programs controlled at a national level such as the basic provision of electricity.
Still, analysts should not overlook the real, revolutionary changes in rural life from two decades of ANC rule, Faull noted. “If you live in an Eastern Cape homestead, electricity is a revolutionary occurrence. You change someone’s life… The ANC has been able to deliver more effectively in rural areas than in urban [ones].” Further, the impact of government social grants for example will be felt keenly in rural areas – where the money goes further and are a primary income source for many.
Looking ahead, Shulz-Herzenberg predicted a “competitive election” in 2016 – particularly in urban areas. This is a key – as yet unanswered question. The shift in urban and rural voting now poses the question of whether the ANC will, in the future, increasingly be forced to rely for its success even more on the rural vote – the portion of the population shrinking in percentage terms as rural people migrate urban-ward to where they see opportunities for a better life.
See the entire presentation by Collette Shulz-Herzenberg here.
See the entire presentation by Jonathan Faull here. DM
Photo: A man casts his vote at a polling station in Bekkersdal, Johannesburg, South Africa, 07 May 2014. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK
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