Too early to draw conclusions from polling data

Julius Malema during the launch of Economic Freedom Fighters. (Gallo)

Julius Malema during the launch of Economic Freedom Fighters. (Gallo)

The first wave of reading the polling tea leaves, so to speak, has come and gone with the release in recent weeks of preliminary analyses and surveys of the 2014 elections.

A survey by market-research firm Pondering Panda suggested that Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party could attract the votes of a possible 26% of young South Africans; while an analysis by financial advisory firm Nomura suggested that the ruling ANC’s share of the national vote could sink to 56%.

The emergence of new parties like the EFF, alongside that of Agang, led by struggle stalwart Mamphela Ramphele, and potential growth of the Democratic Alliance (DA) are key reasons for the decline in the electorate’s support for the ANC, according to Nomura.

It is very early in the polling game, as the reports clearly state, and anything can happen between now and election time, roughly a year away, depending on what date the Independent Electoral Commission ultimately announces.

But following these initial surveys, numerous municipal by-elections took place across the country last week, including nine in the North West province.

The region is home to the Marikana mine near Rustenburg, the site of conflict between workers and the police that led to 44 deaths.

Poor response exacerbates tragedy
The tragedy has been exacerbated by a poor response from the country’s leaders, while the future of the commission of inquiry charged with investigating the events of that day looks increasingly precarious.

The province is not renowned for exemplary governance either. Just this week, the auditor-general released its assessment of local-government performance, finding the performance of the province’s municipalities over the past year to be flat, without a single municipality managing a clean audit.

The ANC, nevertheless, won seven of the nine by-elections in the province. In the running for ward 19 in Rustenburg was the EFF-backed independent candidate Matshepiso Thekiso. While voter turn out was only about 18%, the ANC’s Elane Mtyotywa won with just less than 86% of the votes.

This suggests, at the very least, that there is still a distinct gap between apparent unhappiness with the country’s leadership and what is revealed by the ballot, even in an area arguably the most primed for change.

Neither the ANC nor the EFF could be reached for comment on the surveys. The DA’s chief executive, Jonathan Moakes, cautioned against placing too much store on current surveys, however, particularly as it is not clear what methodology is being used to poll voters.

Nevertheless, he said there was a strong possibility that the ANC’s share of the vote would drop below 60% in election 2014, a change he attributed largely to increased support for the DA.

The party’s own polling data suggests that the DA could potentially become the largest party in Gauteng.

Moakes dismissed the appeal that the EFF could have for young South Africans, saying that the election would be a “two-horse race” between the DA and ANC. But until the votes are counted, the outcome is anyone’s guess.



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