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Four scenarios for the pivotal 2024 election in the Western Cape

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Dr Seelan Naidoo is principal associate at Public Ethos Consulting. He holds a master's in Decision-making, Knowledge and Values from Stellenbosch University, and a PhD in Organisation Studies and Cultural Theory from the University of St Gallen. He is an associated researcher of the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape. He writes in his personal capacity.

Indications suggest that the DA majority is in trouble in the Western Cape and is at risk of losing its long-held, yet declining majority. The party will likely be forced to govern through a coalition.

In October last year, I wrote about the five plausible scenarios for South Africa’s upcoming 2024 national elections, noting the significance of this event which will mark the first 30 years of our still young and vibrant democracy.

In this article, I do the same kind of analysis for the 2024 provincial election outcome for the Western Cape.

Currently, the Democratic Alliance (DA) governs the Western Cape, having achieved a 55.4% majority in 2019. However, opinion is divided on what the outcome in 2024 will be, reflecting the higher level of uncertainty about these elections at both national and provincial levels.

The scenarios presented below are based on a criterion of plausibility, rather than on probabilities. The emphasis here is on identifying and exploring the range of possible election outcomes rather than on predicting a single most likely outcome.

My approach is to take a considered view of the upper and lower limits that are achievable for the major parties. Within these limits, the outcome for each major party is then varied in increments to produce the four scenarios.

Taken together, these scenarios represent the space of possibility for the 2024 election outcome in the Western Cape. 

I contend that there are no other plausible scenarios that will produce substantively different political arrangements than the ones set out below.

Each scenario, if it comes to pass, will shape politics in the Western Cape in definitive and very different ways. Therefore, voters should be mindful not only of their ballot choices in this election but also of the kind of politics that their votes will contribute to bringing about.   

The scenarios and their more discernible implications are discussed below.

Scenario 1: ANC-led coalition versus a DA opposition coalition

Scenario 1 will be the result of the lowest performance by the DA, the highest performance by the ANC, and a strong showing by the smaller parties. In this case, the province will be governed by an ANC-led coalition since the DA will not achieve enough of the vote to form a governing coalition of its own.

Scenario 1 implies a fundamental shift in the politics and administration of the Western Cape with an ANC-led coalition effectively returning to power after a 15-year hiatus.

This outcome will shift the emphasis of governance towards transformative service delivery to poorer communities. It will be characterised by healthier relationships with national government.

However, it will also play out as a more conflict-ridden mode of politics between the two large coalitions of almost equal strength in the Western Cape provincial legislature. This tension will be more intense in the Western Cape administration, which has been a site of sustained cadre deployment by the DA over the past 15 years.

Scenario 2: DA-led coalition versus stronger ANC opposition

Scenario 2 will be the result of the DA coming in just below the 50% mark, the ANC strengthening its share of the vote to 34%, and the smaller parties and independents showing continued growth. 

This will be just enough for the DA to form a governing coalition to hold onto power in the province, albeit under the threat of votes of no-confidence with smaller parties playing kingmaker roles.

There will be an intensification of the ANC’s approach to opposition politics in this case, given an increase in its proportion of seats in the legislature. 

The ANC, with the support of some of the smaller parties, will be emboldened to demand more equitable service delivery to underserved poorer communities where their voters predominantly live.

Scenario 3 (2019 results): DA majority retained with ANC opposition retained

Scenario 3 represents a straightforward repeat of the 2019 outcomes for all the parties.

The effect of this will be a consolidation of DA governance under conditions of relative political and administrative continuity. However, this will continue to run into the headwinds of intensive opposition from the ANC in various alignments with smaller parties in the province.

Scenario 4 (CSN poll): Weakened DA majority with ANC opposition retained

Scenario 4 represents the outcome predicted by the poll undertaken by Roger Jardine’s Change Starts Now (CSN) in December 2023 which David Everatt discusses in an article published on 4 February 2024 in Daily Maverick. This scenario requires a more detailed explanation.

The CSN poll gathered data nationally on the intentions of registered voters in the Western Cape and included categories for each of the parties and categories for “Don’t know/Refused” and “Won’t vote/None”. 

Following the point made by Mark Orkin, I adjusted the poll results in Scenario 4 to translate them into estimations of votes won by the parties by removing the 18% of respondents who did not choose a party in the CSN study.

In Scenario 4, the result of the CSN poll is that the DA majority in the Western Cape is weakened to 51%, the ANC retains its 29% share, the EFF grows strongly to 11%, and the other parties do poorly, reducing to 9% of the vote.

If Scenario 4 were to come about, the DA would be reduced to a tenuous hold on a very slim majority which is likely to lead it into a governing coalition in the Western Cape. The ANC opposition will be retained at its current level (29%). 

However, the EFF is predicted to more than double its current share of the vote (from 4% to 11%) which will open a vocal new flank of opposition for the DA in the Western Cape.

The CSN scenario is problematic for several reasons and this shows why caution is needed when interpreting the results of probabilistic election polls.  

First, the CSN poll and Everatt’s commentary on it ignore the election trends in the Western Cape over the past 10 years. Using these trends as a reality check reveals that the poll’s results for the EFF and “Other” parties in the Western Cape are questionable. The CSN poll predicts a 175% increase for the EFF and a 25% decline for the “Other” parties.

Both of these shifts do not square up with electoral trends in the province which show instead that the EFF has hovered around the 4% to 5% mark, whereas there has been strong growth in the shares of the “Other” category over several elections.

Second, the CSN poll predicts an 82% turnout in the Western Cape in 2024, whereas the 2019 turnout was 66% and the 2014 turnout was 73%. This suggests that the CSN study is overestimating turnout in the province by a significant margin. As many commentators have pointed out, turnout is an important variable.

Third, Everatt is overly convinced that the CSN poll results will be realised. This conviction is excessive because it ignores the important fact that early polls have historically been further off the mark the earlier they are undertaken before the election. The three months that are left before the 29 May election is a very long time in the context of what will be a hotly contested election.

Fourth, the CSN poll results for the Western Cape are questionable because they suggest that votes will be transferred from both the DA and the smaller parties to the benefit of the EFF, while the ANC will retain its share of the vote.

Such a scenario runs against the grain of historical cross-party flows in the Western Cape. Instead, such flows are more likely to occur between the DA and the smaller parties, and between the ANC and the EFF.  

Fifth, the CSN poll predictions are rendered questionable because of the way in which the number of respondents is reduced and may become more error-prone. This happens when the sample size reduces in proportion to the Western Cape population (from 9,000 nationally to 1,078 respondents in the Western Cape); and when the sample size is further reduced in the case of a small party like the EFF where the CSN prediction is based on the responses of only about 120 respondents (11% of the sample).

The increased margin of error also applies to the CSN prediction of what the “Other” parties will win in the Western Cape. The point is illustrated by the fact that a shift of just 35 responses from the DA to the “Other” parties; and a shift of just 53 responses from the EFF to the ANC would produce Scenario 2 above.

Therefore, the shift of just 80 to 90 respondents, which could easily happen if the CSN study was replicated, produces a markedly different conclusion from the CSN prediction for the Western Cape.

Conclusion

The outcome of the 2024 election could bring about profound change or merely reproduce the status quo in the Western Cape – the range of possible political configurations is very wide indeed.

The stakes are high and this means that the turnout in the Western Cape will again be higher than in other provinces and higher than the national turnout percentage. 

I predict a 75% turnout of registered voters in the Western Cape.

An important factor is the extent to which young black voters are moved to turn out on election day. Historically, turnout by black voters in the 20 to 40 age category has been much lower than any other category of voter. If this percentage increases it will favour both the ANC and the EFF.

Another important factor that could produce upsetting outcomes for the DA (that is, Scenarios 1, 2 and 4) is its stance on the situation in Gaza and Palestine which has angered a significant section of the population in the province.

If this schism produces a 6% shift of votes away from the DA, it could bring about Scenario 2 wherein the DA loses its majority and is forced into a coalition on its “home turf”. 

If this factor shifts 10% or more of the vote away from the DA it could even bring about Scenario 1 wherein the DA loses control of the province to an ANC-led coalition.

All indications, including the CSN poll, suggest that the DA majority is in trouble in the Western Cape. 

In 2024, the DA is at risk of losing its long-held, yet declining majority.

Although the approach that I used to generate the scenarios eschews probabilistic reasoning, my sense, contrary to the CSN poll, is that Scenario 4 is unlikely in the Western Cape.   

The difference between the more likely scenarios 2 and 3 in terms of the politics that will emerge in each case, is huge. That is why so much more is at stake in this provincial election.

If I had to make a prediction it would be that Scenario 2 is most likely to occur. That is, the DA loses its majority in the Western Cape legislature and is forced to govern through a coalition.

How these political configurations will play out in terms of provincial service delivery to the people of the Western Cape is the more important question that remains. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    We will see how accurate your scenarios are after the election

  • D E says:

    “This outcome will shift the emphasis of governance towards transformative service delivery to poorer communities.”

    Is Naidoo seriously suggesting that the ANC is pro-poor and will deliver services? Come one gent. You cannot be that obtuse.

    The DA Western Cape government has done more for poor people in the Western Cape than national government has in the entire rest of the country.

    I always find corporate media’s criticism of the DA so bizarre given the context of the rest of the country.

  • Tumi Mothibedi says:

    The writer’s predictions on elections always lag behind the actual current climate, as was the case with his national predictions. I seriously do not think the majority of the youth in the Western Cape are still adhering to traditional politics of yesteryear. The most likely scenario if DA loses its majority in the WC, is the multiparty charter coalition. The PA and the EFF are the only serious challengers to the DA in the WC. The ANC is on an irreversible downward decline, especially in the Western Cape regardless of the Israel/Palestine issue.

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