No campaign, no votes

Voter support for the Congress of the People (Cope) could have fallen to between 6% and 8%, suggest surveys conducted by independent pollster Markinor and the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Analysts ascribe the drop to the leadership battle in Cope and its lack of a visible election campaign.

Markinor executive director Mari Harris told the Mail & Guardian that polls show Cope will receive between 8% and 12% of the vote on April 22—nowhere near the 51% the party claims it is targeting.

Said Harris: “In the field that is what we are picking up. There is a floating vote of 8% up for grabs, so it depends on how Cope behaves itself in the time before the elections.”

And according to the DA’s national tracking poll, Cope is polling between 6% and 8%.

“They’ve fallen from between 10% and 11% in mid-January to between 6% and 8% now,” said DA elections chief Ryan Coetzee.

The DA poll shows that the African National Congress (ANC) and the DA have improved their ratings since January, when election campaigning started in earnest.

Harris and Coetzee agree that the lack of visible election campaigning, including posters, advertisements and large rallies, is hurting Cope.

“They aren’t in the public eye. They aren’t on radio, lampposts or television nearly enough.
Rallies work in some areas to get the rural vote,” said Harris.

Cope’s recent internal conflicts over its presidential and premier candidates will hurt its performance, she said. “This fighting among themselves and their leadership issues have not done them any favours and their share of the vote could shrink even to 7%.”

Cope’s second deputy president Lynda Odendaal admitted that there “might have been confusion” about the party’s lack of visibility.

“I know people are worried, but we are on the ground, our support is growing every day,” she claimed.

Cope has instructed its 500 000 members each to convince 20 registered voters to support the party at the ballot box, meaning that 10-million voters will be targeted.

“By polling day Cope will be just 125 days old. Also, larger parties get funding from government,” Odendaal said, referring to the state funding all parties receive if they have parliamentary seats.

Cope’s lack of visible campaigning makes the party look poor, Coetzee said. “The party is brand-new and now it seems to have money problems. Apart from media coverage, there’s been no election campaign.”

Cope spokesperson JJ Tabane said the party could start printing posters now that its presidential and premier candidates have been chosen.

Coetzee said that the DA bought backing boards for posters last October and printed its posters in December. “Cope spent too much time dealing with defections and choosing candidates.”

Because Cope does not have a core constituency, the party is highly dependent on swing voters. Said Coetzee: “The swing voter faces specific choices and the quality of your campaign will help them decide. But as the time goes on these people make up their minds and the pool will shrink.”

Multimillionaire businessman Saki Macozoma, who recently announced his affiliation to Cope, said the party is aiming at 30% of the vote.

“If other parties maintain their votes from previous elections and the 30% is at the expense of the ANC, there is a new dynamic in the republic,” he told
the M&G.

He said Cope is struggling with finances, hence the failure to get its election campaign up and running. He admitted that the party was lagging behind in the election campaign race.

“As I understand it, Cope doesn’t have the financial resources to compete with the ANC. [The ANC] goes around saying this is a middle-class party, but that middle class is under severe economic pressure because of the financial meltdown.

“There’s no way it can finance a campaign like the ANC’s.”

Macozoma, who said he was funding Cope, said the party could not make available its financial records, despite the fact that its deputy president, Mbhazima Shilowa, vowed to do so when the party launched in December.

“Nobody will donate to a party that does that. [Releasing donors’ names] is not going to happen because donors who donate real money don’t want their names in the public domain.”

He suggested that the delay in naming candidates also had an effect because “if you ask somebody to part with their money, they must know who they are betting on”.

To monitor support Cope has been relying on online surveys conducted by daily newspapers such as the Sowetan and the Daily Dispatch in the Eastern Cape.

“People who complain that we aren’t visible enough are either our members or people who are likely to vote for us,” said a Cope staffer who asked to remain anonymous.

“It’s because they are used to the traditional ways of campaigning and expect us to campaign like other parties.”

The party’s strategy is to use unconventional methods, including billboards at big sporting events, which reach spectators and a television audience. There were Cope billboards at the weekend rugby match between the Blue Bulls and the Lions at Ellis Park, for example.

Insiders said money is available, though “not as much as we expected”.

“We’ll still be able to stage an effective campaign,” said national spokesperson Philip Dexter. Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota visited Germany and the United Kingdom this week to raise funds.

No seats either
Cope’s deepening electoral woes were highlighted this week by a string of municipal by-election results in which the party failed to win a single seat.

The ANC won 17 of the 21 wards contested.

Cope expected a solid showing in the Eastern Cape, which is seen as its stronghold. But in Port Elizabeth, where eight wards were vacant because of defections from Cope to the ANC, not a single ward was won by a Cope candidate.

The ANC held its ward seats across the country except in Loskop, KwaZulu-Natal, where it lost one ward to the Inkatha Freedom Party. The IFP took four wards in KwaZulu-Natal.

Other wards in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, North West and Mpumalanga also fell vacant after councillors resigned from the ANC to join Cope.

The voter turnout varied between provinces, with the highest in a ward in Springbok in the Northern Cape, where 78% of eligible voters cast their ballot. In Brits, North West, only 20% of voters made their cross.

But by-elections are not necessarily seen as a reliable indicator of party support because of the generally low voter turnout and the small size of ward electorates.

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice.
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