Polled voters agree elections were free and fair yet declining confidence among non-voters of critical concern
Disillusionment with formal politics and declining trust in South Africa’s democracy are likely to blame for Monday’s low voter turnout. Still, a high percentage of voters felt local government elections were impartial and legitimate despite several glitches reported to the IEC.
Of the South Africans who voted, 95% believed this year’s local government elections were free and fair. This is according to results from the Election Satisfaction Survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).
Presenting their findings on Wednesday morning at the National Results Operation Centre in Tshwane, the Council said 12,000 voters were interviewed at 300 voting stations nationwide on 1 November.
“An overwhelming majority of sampled voters feel that the election procedures were free. Provincially, this ranges from 90% in the Western Cape to 98% in Mpumalanga. Similarly, 94% of the voters are of the opinion that the election procedures were fair. Provincially, this figure varies between 90% in the Western Cape and 99% in Mpumalanga,” said Dr Benjamin Roberts, Acting Strategic Lead and Research Director at the HSRC.
90% of voters also said they trust or strongly trust the Electoral Commission (IEC). This is despite accusations of impartiality being thrown at the IEC prior to the election and the influx of complaints on election day about glitchy Voter Management Devices (VMDs) and the shortage of ballot papers.
The DA said it was considering lodging complaints about some of the reported snags. On Tuesday, Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo defended the VMDs saying they streamlined the electoral processes compared to the “zip-zip” machines used in previous elections.
Despite this, 84% of voters were either completely or very confident that their vote would be accurately counted, while 96% of voters were satisfied with the secrecy of their vote. There was also a positive evaluation of the conduct of IEC officials at voting stations.
An incident in eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, however, saw a presiding officer arrested for allegedly stuffing marked ballots into a ballot box on Monday.
More vaccinated voters
68% of voters reported being vaccinated prior to election day. “This suggests that there was a greater tendency among the vaccinated to turn out and cast their ballot than the unvaccinated,” said the HSRC.
A further 63,000 people received the jab on election day at the 1,000 pop up vaccination sites set up at voting stations across the country.
Declining trust in electoral system
Noting Monday’s low voter turnout, Acting Group Executive of Shared Services at the HSRC, Professor Narnia Bohler-Muller said separate research from the Council indicated a “disturbing decline” in trust in South Africa’s democracy.
“This is a reality and this could be one of the reasons why we had a relatively low turnout.”
According to Roberts, just under 80% of respondents (in separate research) said “disillusionment” with formal politics was the reason they did not go out to vote.
For those who did vote, the ESS found that South Africans felt a sense of civic duty and belief that their vote makes a difference. He noted that the idea of party allegiance was weakening amongst younger generations.
The Covid-19 pandemic was another deterrent for non-voters, as well as fears that the election could be the trigger for the fourth wave of infections.
When asked whether the long weekend was a contributing factor to Monday’s low voter turnout, Roberts said voters tend to prefer having elections either on a weekend or a public holiday.
This suggests that Monday’s election day being a public holiday might not be to blame for the low turnout.
Data from the ESS shows decisions to vote were mostly made before election day with 62% deciding more than six months beforehand. DM