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The ‘Ramaphosa factor’ is key in voters’ decision on 29 May, UJ survey reveals

The ‘Ramaphosa factor’ is key in voters’ decision on 29 May, UJ survey reveals
Illustrative image: ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Netwerk 24) | A boy carries an ANC poster in Mamelodi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Lefty Shivambu) | Luthuli House, Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Lubabalo Lesolle)

Those who trust President Cyril Ramaphosa were 77% more likely to vote ANC, according to University of Johannesburg research on voters’ choices. This finding underscores why the ANC has Ramaphosa leading its 2024 election campaign in the party’s push to retain its majority.

Trust in political leadership in elections has emerged as key to ballot choices – alongside party loyalty – according to the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Centre for Social Development in Africa’s research brief, “Factors determining voters choice in South Africa’s national general elections”.  

President Cyril Ramaphosa was a “significant factor in the support for the ANC” despite a view that he had failed to live up to promises, said Emeritus Professor Yolanda Sadie of the UJ Politics and International Relations Department at Tuesday’s release of the research.  

While reasons for this popularity – which increased by about 20 percentage points from 54% in 2019 – were not clear, Sadie said these could relate to Ramaphosa’s comments on fighting corruption, admitting governance mistakes and committing to fixing those mistakes. 

Like the “Ramaphosa factor”, party loyalty as a factor in voter choice benefits the ANC as the party that brought freedom and democracy to South Africa. The only blip came in 2017 amid disgruntlement with the then presidency of Jacob Zuma. 

“In this 2023 survey, respondents were 58% more likely to choose the incumbent party – the ANC – than an opposition party if they selected party loyalty as their reason for party choice,” according to the research brief.  

That grants are no longer certain predictors of voting decisions is a key change from previous surveys.

Tuesday’s published research is the fifth survey on factors in voters’ choices since 2017. 

Between October and December 2023, 3,511 respondents were interviewed face-to-face in their preferred language. The MK party was not yet active, and thus not included. The error margin is 1.8%. 

Crucially, the UJ Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) research highlights that voting decisions are increasingly aspirational, with a focus on improvement rather than being all about socioeconomic well-being and social grants.

That grants are no longer certain predictors of voting decisions is a key change from previous surveys, when up to two-thirds of respondents who received grants said they’d vote ANC. Now, for the first time, a majority of grant recipients, or 53%, indicated they would vote for opposition parties.   

Ramaphosa voters

Voting at a polling station during the general elections in Soweto on 8 May 2019. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

This result shows the impact of political parties like the DA’s and ActionSA’s public commitment to retaining social grants – about 47% of South Africa’s population currently receive a grant – and their talk of increasing grants. 

But this shift also relates to the inclusion of unemployed youth with different party loyalties through the Social Relief of Distress Grant introduced at R350 during the pandemic. Previously, grant recipients were predominantly women and the elderly. 

“Grant recipients seem more secure in asserting their right to social assistance,” said CSDA Social Development Studies Professor Leila Patel on Tuesday. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

Vote decision factors were dominated by jobs (55%), followed by improved lives (49%) and improved service delivery (48%) in a signal of more aspirational vote decision-making. Grant payments were a voting choice factor for 44% of respondents.

These responses highlight the appeal of ANC messaging – the slogan, “A better life for all”, has been featured on the governing party’s campaign trails since 1999. 

That only 24% of respondents cite effective governance as reasons for their voting choice should give the DA food for thought. Its slogan, “Where the DA governs it governs best”, does not seem to have landed to the extent that it might shift voting patterns. 

Despite much fear-mongering from the DA about what it calls the ‘doomsday coalition’ between the ANC and EFF… the UJ survey shows neither the ANC nor the EFF is particularly enamoured with this scenario.

The same applies to a political party promising to root out corruption, or a party not seen as corrupt, which accounted for 22% and 26% of respondents’ choices in casting ballots. 

With the run-up to the 2024 elections dominated by pundits’ predictions that the governing ANC may lose its majority, coalition talk has been rife since the DA launched its so-called moonshot pact, now the Multiparty Charter, in August 2023. 

But the UJ survey shows that 59.4% of DA supporters don’t support a coalition with smaller parties. Instead, DA voters are more positive towards a coalition with the ANC, with 47.3% of respondents indicating their support. 

However, ANC voters didn’t share such sentiments – 51.8% disagreed with an ANC-DA coalition, with only 28.8% coming out in favour. 

Although both the DA and ANC say they are contesting the 29 May poll to win, both may have to return to the drawing board if they are to honour the will of their supporters.  

Being less attached to history and sentiment that the ANC was the party of freedom, young people were 1.5 times more likely to vote for the opposition.

Despite much fear-mongering from the DA about what it calls the “doomsday coalition” between the ANC and EFF – in Gauteng the toenadering is established at the municipal level – the UJ survey shows neither the ANC nor the EFF is particularly enamoured with this scenario. 

Only 27% of EFF voters agreed to a coalition with the ANC, but 55% said they “strongly disagree”. On the ANC side, it’s a more even split with 38.9% in support and 37.6% disagreeing. 

Overall, 38.9% of respondents were opposed to coalitions at the national government level. ANC supporters were least likely to support a coalition (40.1%), followed by the EFF (34.9%) and then DA supporters (32.5%). 

Voters queue to cast their ballots in the municipal elections in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, on 18 May 2011. (Photo: Gallo Images / Nelius Rademan)

With socioeconomic well-being and fear of losing social grants no longer predictors of party choice, the field of factors is broadened.  

While those concerned about corruption were more likely to vote for opposition parties, rural residents are 32% more likely to vote ANC. 

Women were 34% more likely to vote ANC, but an important factor here is that no other party specifically targeted women, even though 55% of voters are women. 

The 2024 elections may be determined by the youth – if they turn out to cast their ballots. 

Voters 35 and younger represented 42% of registered voters, and being less attached to history and sentiment that the ANC was the party of freedom, young people were 1.5 times more likely to vote for the opposition, according to the UJ research. 

As Sadie put it, “A high turnout for youth may benefit the opposition”. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Michael Bowes says:

    There’s a Ramaphosa factor?? I would have thought it was more like a Ramirrelevant factor. The ANC put him in place precisely because they could rely on him not get between the pigs and the trough.

  • Joe Soap says:

    The irony though is that if ANC support falls significantly as indicated by polls, Ramaphosa will in all probability be recalled (their best bet being replaced by someone less loved) and replaced by?

    • Titus Khoza says:

      Yours is wishful thinking, just very far removed from the real dynamics of this country.

    • That Guy says:

      That’s why they can’t replace Ramaphosa and probably won’t. Both the MK and EFF want him out, but that’s probably because South Africa seems to love him. I think it’s okay that he warms the bench for another 5 years instead of EFF/MK taking over.

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