Opinionista Steven Boykey Sidley 5 August 2016

LGE 2016 results – a story of maths and spin

This week I got into a little Twitter spat with the redoubtable Max du Preez after the election results had come in. Basically, he dismissed the EFF as a molehill hiding under the bluster of a mountain. I beg to differ.

Some famous politician (probably many more than one) commented that individual election returns are irrelevant – only trends  are relevant. If one follows that line of reasoning, then there can be only three conclusions in this election.

The first, obviously, is that the ANC had a calamity. The second, less obviously, is that DA is in trouble. And third, obvious to the underlying maths, is that the EFF is astonishingly ascendent.

It is a satisfying spectator sport to watch the contortions of various spokesmen and party luminaries as they puff warm air under their election results. ‘We are buoyant’ said one ANC bigwig, until Jackson Mthembu uttered the more prudent word ‘concerned’. That would be an a serious understatement in a more rational world, but ANC true believers still cannot imagine that Jesus is coming. Maths says that he is outside of the front door, and knocking. A loss of 7.5% of the vote (moving from 62% to 54.5% of the vote, which translates to a 12% backslide). Draw a line from 2006 to 2011 to 2016, and it is a political party’s worst nightmare – an accelerating decline. Any TV series showing these number long ago been cancelled and any CEO with revenues lines like these would be rewriting his CV. And the ANC is unlikely to reverse this trend without manufacturing about one million jobs before the next election (yeah, right) or appealing to, um, baser political instincts.

The DA is a more interesting story. There is a lot of gloating and street dancing about Metro councils gained at the expense of service-averse ANC. No doubt this is sparkly stuff for the party. They get to extend their wings of governances and fix potholes and provide working streetlights and free broadband to places other than their home base. That would serve them well in the future, of course. But here is the real story – they have gone from 16% to 24% to 26.2% since 2006. Any DA strategist drawing that graph is going to be very worried. It means that their growth has slowed to a crawl, notwithstanding a few metro successes. It means many of the ANC votes which were lost, were not gained by them. It means bad weather coming. It means that they may soon be bumping their heads against the glass ceiling of quiet competence (when faced with an electorate which would rather respond to shrieky and undeliverable promise). 

Which brings us to the EFF, which has received surprisingly little attention since the results settled. The media have smirked at their ‘poor showing’, at the large gap between their aspirations (a vainglorious 12% prediction, but a 7.9% reality). But again, look at the trends. This party, stuck deep in the mud of inexperience, shrill invective, a fraction of the money available to the ANC and DA, and a spotty national organisation grew by an eye-watering 40%. Oh, but that is off a ‘small base’, I am told. Well that number is now two million and anyone who thinks two million people is a small base, does not understand what this very young party has achieved, notwithstanding their deranged manifesto. And their cherry? The are the official opposition in Limpopo. By any measure one cares to consider it was an astonishing performance.

Spin doctors are fun to watch, but I would suggest that maths speaks a larger truth. DM

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