South Africa

ANALYSIS

New 2019 poll predicts a massive Battleground Gauteng

New 2019 poll predicts a massive Battleground Gauteng
Gauteng premier David Makhura during an interview at his office on December 01, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Makhura revealed that he is not fazed by EFF’s popularity amongst young voters and that ANC will regain control of the province. (Photo by Gallo Images / City Press / Leon Sadiki)

As we get ever-closer to May the 8th, and political reputations past and future hang in the balance, so is the pollsters’ blood pressure starting to rise. Predictions start flowing fast and furiously, along with proclamations, denials and counter-denials. The latest poll from the IRR suggests there are certain identifiable trends. If correct, and if the shift continues, then May the 9th might well lead to even greater soul-searching – also known as chaos.

It is tempting to start with the usual caveats around a poll like this, about how the Institute for Race Relations (IRR) stresses that this is not a prediction but a snapshot in time, about how it’s not so much the numbers that matter, but the trends, and about how everything you ever read about politics should be taken with a large dose of salt, or something equally medicinal.

But still, the numbers are what most people will be looking for.

This latest poll suggests that in the national picture, the ANC is sitting on 54.6%, the DA is on 21.8% and the EFF is on 12.2%.

While the national picture is what most people will be focusing on, it is, in fact, the provincial picture that could turn out to be more startling.

In Gauteng the ANC is well below the 50% mark, hovering on 41.6%. The DA is on 32.4% and the EFF is on 18.2%. The key aspect here may not be so much that the ANC is below 50%, but so far below 50%. It seems quite possible, based on this poll, that it could lose the province, which could have complex and important ramifications for the ANC itself, and the other parties, particularly if there are negotiations around possible coalitions to form the provincial government.

Then, in the Western Cape, the DA would literally still be in power by a whisker, at 50.1%, while the ANC is on 33.9%. Interestingly, the EFF is almost nowhere in that province, it comes after the ACDP, the UDM and Patricia de Lille’s GOOD Movement.

The IRR is at pains to point out how important turnout is to all of its models. If turnout goes down, the ANC’s share of the vote appears to go up, while the EFF’s share appears to go down. In other words, the numbers are not fixed, there is still much room for changes to come.

It should also be remembered that there is a large pool of swinging voters. (Ste…ph…en…!!!! – Ed) Political parties are now entering a much more intense period of campaigning. In the past, this has appeared to lead to a tendency that people who are still undecided now could move back to the parties they voted for in the past, that they go back to their original political identity in some ways. This might well lead to some gains for the ANC.

While there would be much speculation about what would happen to the internal politics of the ANC, should its support drop significantly, it may well be that Gauteng actually becomes the main focus. The shock of losing a second province, and the economic heartland of the country, would be immense. It seems unlikely that this could happen without there being significant trauma within the ANC. A prima facie analysis would suggest there could well be intense recriminations between various groups on the issue. Those who oppose President Cyril Ramaphosa tend to have important power bases in the rural provinces. They may well claim that the “urban” wing of the ANC has failed, and should be punished, which could lead to an intensely difficult situation. However, it could also be claimed that it is the very actions of Ramaphosa’s opponents that led to the underperformance that, in fact, it is their fault that people who normally would have voted for the ANC have turned towards the opposition.

In the meantime, there would be more immediate questions about what would actually happen in Gauteng: who would govern, and how would that happen, and which parties would try to form a coalition.

The immediate thought would be for the DA and the EFF to create a provincial government, based on what happened in Joburg and Tshwane in 2016. However, that situation, where the EFF made it clear that it would not enter a formal coalition but said it would support the DA on an issue by issue basis, was also the product of the politics of the time. The EFF and the DA had made former President Jacob Zuma the focal point of their campaigns (with much success). This meant they could not, in any way, countenance a deal with the ANC. But Ramaphosa is a very different person. This would lead to questions about whether it could, in fact, be possible for the ANC to form a coalition with either the DA or the EFF.

It would seem difficult, considering the language of the moment. On Wednesday, the ANC accused the EFF of being a party that “places little value in honesty and integrity… a confused party with no discernible ideology”.

The EFF, for its part, hit out at the ANC for refusing to back its motion to rename Cape Town International Airport after Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

And of course, both the ANC and EFF routinely hit out at the DA which, also routinely, hits back at them.

But the language of an election campaign is very different to the language of a small smoky backroom after an election, where real politics, and combinations, are discussed. It is entirely possible for almost any variation to materialise. The ANC could well offer a coalition to the EFF, and Julius Malema may well find it difficult to say no to some provincial power (as the claims around how patronage flows in Joburg and Tshwane show…).

It is also entirely possible that the ANC and the DA team up in some way. Mmusi Maimane would surely find it difficult to say no to Ramaphosa. If he did, it would look like he was opening the door to the EFF. And of course, after their experience in Joburg and Tshwane, Maimane could well think that it would be nigh impossible to govern with Malema.

And then there are the smaller parties, who could, depending on what happens, get enough support to help bring the ANC over the 50% mark in Gauteng. But that, as always, would leave the ANC vulnerable to a variety of demands from a group of smaller parties that would end up in inevitable political blackmail.

All of these are possible.

In the meantime, it should not be forgotten that if this poll’s trends are correct, this could be a big election for the EFF. It would be the big winner if it indeed manages to cross the 10% mark. And it would also look, on the numbers, that it is taking votes from the ANC in a way which the DA could not. Its supporters and leaders would further claim that getting over 10% is a real victory. It may be the case, but it would still be a small party, a party that despite all of the free, and sometimes relatively un-interrogated coverage it receives, is really a 10% party, not a party approaching national prominence, and not the national power.

In the meantime, the IRR poll also suggests that the new parties, those formed very recently, are not making much headway. The GOOD Movement gets just 0.6% in this poll. The African Transformation Movement, with Mzwanele Manyi as its policy head, claims to be the next party of government. He has claimed the ATM has over a million members. In the words of the IRR, “the African Transformation Movement, along with a range of other smaller parties, did not register any national support”.

Which means either the survey is fundamentally flawed, or Manyi is lying… (If you could ever believe that Manyi could be lying…)

This will not be the last poll before the elections. There will be others with different methodologies. And in the end, as all politicians will say between now and then, the only poll that matters is the election itself. But these polls are important because they may inform at least some of the remaining electoral tactics, as there’s not much time left for strategy shifts.

The EFF might find it useful to concentrate on attacking the DA rather than the ANC, if it thinks that a deal with the ANC in Gauteng could be on the cards, or perhaps the DA could find it must attack the EFF as strongly as possible to weaken its negotiating position in future coalitions. In the end, it seems the biggest, most important factor, as it so often is, is the internal politics of the ANC. If it has a strongly successful campaign and gives the impression of unity, all of the coalition talks could well be off the table.

Which, of course, is one gigantic IF. DM

Gallery

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