/ 7 April 2009

Race drives voters, research finds

Race is one of the powerful factors driving voters in an election, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Collette Schulz-Herzenberg said on Tuesday.

”The way voters choose among parties is heavily shaped by social factors,” she told a seminar on trends in party support and voter behaviour in Pretoria.

Another factor influencing voters to vote for a particular party was the party’s image and attributes.

”Voter perception of the inclusiveness of a party are important … positive evaluations attract voters [to a party] and negative evaluations repel voters,” she said.

Ambiguity was one of the factors repelling voters, she said.

The African National Congress (ANC) has been able to gather increasing support over the years, indicating that ANC voters were unquestionably loyal and enthusiastic.

While the ANC has shown growth in its support, the support for the Inkatha Freedom Party had declined and that of the Independent Democrats remained constant.

According to her research, the level of partisanship was higher among black South Africans than other race groups.

On average, she said 58% of black Africans are ANC supporters.

Professor Adam Habib, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg said race has an indirect influence on a party.

It does not mean that support would decline for the ANC if it was led by a white person. ”The problem is not with the voter but it is with value of the leadership,” he said.

The fact that the ANC was able to increase its support over the years, was an indication that opposition parties were unable to encourage their supporters to vote for them. ”This means opposition parties have to mobilise their supporters and campaign more.” Schulz-Herzenberg added that social networks reinforce perceptions of parties. — Sapa