Brexit negotiations continue to catch the global headlines, as Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to maintain unity within her cabinet and her party. Yet she is not alone. Jeremy Corbyn on the other side of the political aisle and spectrum also faces colossal challenges of unity within his opposition benches as well as within the Labour movement. Not in generations has the British political landscape been as divided as it appears today with these divisions cutting across political allegiances.
But Brexit also left another bitter aftertaste in the mouths of those studying voting trends within democracies. A major feature of polls, whether elections or referenda, is the practice of polling. As with the general elections in the United Kingdom in 2015, the pollsters got it horribly wrong again with the Brexit referendum the following year. However, on finer reflection, not all the polls. Only the telephonic ones it seems.
While one may suggest, tongue in cheek, that these pollsters would in hindsight write in their own defence else they would be out of business for their disastrous predictions, an article written on YouGov UK, on 28 June 2018, titled The online polls were RIGHT [sic], and other lessons from the referendum, by Freddie Sayers, Editor-in-Chief of YouGov, indicates that the contestation between whether online polls were much more accurate than phone polls was resolved. It was definite that online polls were much more accurate. He states that throughout the campaign, phone polls indicated that the “Remain” vote was firmly in the lead whereas the online polls showed “Leave” ahead with a margin of nearly two percent. Polling is one of the core competencies of YouGov.
Putting it plainly, phone polls prove to be phoney.
Yet of course, a proviso is now placed on these polls. “This poll is not a prediction”, says the Institute for Race Relations in their recent elections poll for 2019. Then what exactly is it? Well we know, if it is not a prediction then it must be pitiful, post-truth propaganda appealing to populism.
In their inaugural The Criterion Report, released at the end of September 2018, the IRR present the results from the poll they had conducted. With glee, number 1 of volume 1 of the report announces that the “banner headline findings are”: that the EFF is polling at 13% and that this “doubling in support”, in the main, came from ANC voters. The ANC, in turn, was polling at 52% while not enjoying a majority in Gauteng, as it does now. The DA was doing a bit better at 23%, up by a percentage point from its 2014 result, and that land reform “polls worst, as a priority government issue”.
The well is poisoned because it is a phoney poll.
A simple example of the paucity of this phoney poll is that most voters would invariably say that they are “most likely” to vote but would not actually. Research into statistics provided by the Independent Electoral Commission would indicate for example that women are more likely to vote than men do. In other words, this small demographic variation is completely ignored by the poll which registers a turnout of 83%. No elections held in South Africa post 1994, but excluding 1994 where there was no voters’ roll, docked a turnout as high as 83%. A better analysis would have based the poll on past national and provincial elections which registers a turnout of between seventy and seventy-six percent, at most. Needless to mention that turnout is even lower for local government elections.
The poll suggests a margin of error in Gauteng of a whopping 6%! Yet if they were to add that margin of 6% to the ANC’s supposed support they would discover that Gauteng is not so much up for grabs as they would purport. But this does not suit the narrative of their funders and so this little calculation is omitted.
Polling is not a key performance area of the IRR. Judging by their name, one would have thought that race relations are. Nothing is said of the worrisome suggestion that the DA remains a party of minorities while the EFF is playing with populist practices in its almost exclusive support base of blacks. Instead of boasting a decline in ANC support, the IRR should have rather been concerned that the EFF was gaining traction in its populist stances. Yet, as we know from the history of the IRR, anything that shows decline in support for the ANC is viewed in a positive light even if it does mean a rise in majority populism.
Shall we declare that which the IRR does not wish to acknowledge even with their poor poll? Despite these problematic poll results, upon close reflection the results show that the ANC remains the party which enjoys support across races as in line with the demographics of the country. It is not a minority party, it is not a party solely of the majority, it is a party that is comprised of all the races as reflected in South African society.
This poll which is phoney but not predictive is nothing but pure propaganda. All this phoney poll does have the potential of doing is to perpetuate deep divisions in our country post the general elections in 2019. Just as the pollsters propped up and predicted a win for Nelson Chamisa, in Zimbabwe, organisations such as the IRR seek to sow divisions post the elections after the elections and cast doubt on the result. They do so without any empirical evidence.
The ANC will win. The ANC will recover from 2016 and make inroads there where it has lost ground. The people will show, as they have done before, that they only have confidence in the ANC to tackle our challenges of vast unemployment, deep inequality and widespread poverty. Yet we need to reach a stage in the history of our country where we become multi-partisan on issues and the question of land is such an issue. It simply must be addressed.
This is the core business of the ANC. Addressing the needs of the people of our country whether popular or not. Our proposed social compact with the people, post the general elections of 2019, will be based on a number of issues and challenges faced by our communities. Our manifesto will be launched on January 8th and will spell out clearly for the people of South Africa our vision and manner in which we will tackle challenges. The contents of this manifesto, currently being crafted, will determine how we unite our people in tackling the tasks at hand, not some phoney poll that wishes only to divide.
As is custom in the ANC, branches, the most basic unit, will listen to their communities and embark on a campaign in order to know our communities. Unlike other parties, we will not draft a manifesto in a some boardroom based on some phoney polls. We will not decide who our candidates are through interviews. Our communities, the very places where our ANC branches are grounded in, will determine our issues and our candidates.
Yet sadly what polls such as these will inevitably do with this pitiful propaganda, as with the divisions in the UK today, is that it will leave our country deeply divided when we need all South Africans to work together to build a better society. The DA will simply continue to play on the fears of minorities while the EFF whips up black anger. Who else can the people of South Africa turn to for a future of hope and a better life for our children than the ANC?
The people know this and they will come out in their numbers once again defying these phoney polls to put their cross next to the face of President Ramaphosa and the emblem of the ANC. DM
Faiez Jacobs is the Provincial Secretary of the ANC in the Western Cape and Khalid Sayed is the provincial chairperson of the ANC Youth League in the Western Cape.