Elections 2014: How to make the most of your vote

The Mail & Guardian‘s advice to voters this year is tactical voting. So how does one do that?

No one doubts that after May 7 the ANC will still command a majority. According to an Ipsos poll a few weeks ago, the ANC will get 63.9% of the vote, down from the 65.9% the party won in the 2009 general election.

How does the electorate prevail on the party to do its job properly: create jobs, curb crime and remedy appalling defects in the public health and education systems? How do we make its representatives more responsive? By diluting the ruling party’s power, the M&G has argued – and that means narrowing its majority by swelling the opposition vote and even, in some provinces, forcing the ANC to rule in coalition.

The Western Cape perhaps offers a local example. One can argue that the narrowness of the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) majority in 2009 kept it in check. A similar effect could be observed in Cape Town, when a multiparty front ruled in 2006.

The Ipsos survey, conducted on behalf of the Sunday Times, shows South Africa’s official opposition party, the DA, may grow its support to 23.7% while Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are expected to get 4.7%.

As readers head to the polls on Wednesday, your national vote may be informed by the M&G‘s editorial from last week, where the paper advised voting for an opposition party to deliver a wake-up call to the ANC.

There are a few guidelines at play here: to make the most of your vote, you should vote for the party that you think will come second in this election, where the ruling party has a big margin. But you could also vote for a newcomer who is likely to make an impact, or any viable opposition if that party is likely to get a seat in Parliament.

But how does this play out across provinces? Once you make your choice nationally, consider the dynamics of your own province. You need to look at:

  1. How your province has been run over the past five years and whether you want a change;
  2. the track record over the past five years of the opposition in your province; and
  3. the achievements of your party of choice, if none of the above, in the past five years, or since its inception, and its particular activity in your province.

To help you understand the dynamics of your province, here is a quick voting history of each province, and how tactical voting could theoretically force the ANC below 50% in each case:

Eastern Cape

In the 2009 election the ANC’s majority dropped from just over 79% to just under 70%, which means the party lost about 200 000 voters. The United Democratic Movement (UDM) was another casualty, dropping from 8.9% to 3.95%, and other smaller parties were decimated in that election.

The DA soaked up some of the votes from the smaller parties because it gained 60 000 votes to take nearly 10% of the vote.

The Congress of the People (Cope) also scooped up those votes in 2009 plus a number of new votes, putting its support at just over 300 000, or about 13% of the Eastern Cape electorate. The big question is, in light of Cope’s political weakening since then: What will happen to the party’s 300 000 votes in this election?

The number of registered voters in the province has increased by 178 677. If the voter turnout is 77%, which is what it was in 2009, that would add 138 000 votes. Together with Cope’s votes, let’s assume that there are 438 000 potential votes that could be given to other parties. Where would they be the most effective?

For the past 10 years, the only significant political players in the province (those that get 1% of the province’s votes or more) are the ANC, the DA, Cope and the UDM. But this year brings two new parties, the EFF and Agang SA.

For the ANC to get less than 50% of the votes, it would have to win about 400 000 fewer votes than it got in 2009. Those 400 000, plus new votes, make just over 800 000 votes for Cope. If they went to the DA, it would lift the party’s total to just over a million votes. If they went to the UDM it would lift it to just under 900 000 votes. If those votes went to the EFF or Agang SA, it would make them major players in the province, but the ANC would still be in the majority.

Free State

The smaller parties lost ground in 2009, the only two parties that increased their share of the votes in the province were Cope and the DA. The ANC lost 82 000 votes in the Free State in the last election; its majority fell from 82% to 72% as a result.

The total losses of the ANC, Freedom Front Plus (FF+), the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), the New National Party (NNP) and the Independent Democrats (ID) came to just over 115 000: almost the same number of votes Cope won in the province in that election – its first.

This year the number of registered voters has increased by 58 000. If the voter turnout is 77%, that would mean 45 000 new votes are up for grabs.

For the ANC to get less than 50% of the vote this year, it would need to win less than 550 000 votes, a drop of 200 000 votes on 2009. How could you make a strategic vote in the Free State? If the 45 000 new voters, and the 51 000 people who did not vote for one of the top three parties (ie, ANC, DA or Cope) chose to vote for the DA, that would add 96 000 to its 127 259, bringing it to 223 259. Add to that the 116 000 Cope votes and you get 339 259.

Which party the potentially 200 000 disaffected ANC voters would turn to if they do indeed vote against the party is another matter altogether, but their choice could determine coalition decisions in the province.


Even though the ANC got more votes in 2009 than it did in 2004 (just over 400 000 votes), its percentage of the vote decreased by 4%. The number of votes cast in 2009 increased by nearly 840 000. One could say that the ANC won 48% of those new votes.Gauteng is another three-party province. The ANC, DA and Cope are the only parties that make much of a mark on the voting results sheets.

The increase in the number of voters is a bit smaller this election, up by just under 500 000. If 77% of those newbies actually go to the polling stations, 383 000 new votes will be up for grabs.

The DA added 212 000 votes to take its percentage of the provincial vote to just over 21%, or just over 900 000 votes. Cope’s 338 000 votes won it just under 8% of the vote.

What of this election? For the ANC to get less than 50% of the vote, it will have to get less than 2.3-million votes. That’s 484 000 votes less than it got in 2009.

If the DA wants 50% of the province, it will have to add about 1.5-million votes to its total. Where could those votes come from? If all the people who didn’t vote for the top three were available that would be 607 125. The 337 931 Cope votes would bring that total to 945 056. If the DA won all the new votes, 383 000 of them, it would have just over 1.3-million new votes, bringing its total to 2.25-million. It would then need about half of the votes lost by the ANC to get to 50%.

Newcomers EFF and Agang SA could then share the remaining 200 000 or so lost ANC votes between them in this scenario.


The IFP lost 240 000 of these and 766 000 more votes were cast in 2009 than were in 2004. But it remained the second-largest party in the province despite the big loss. The three horses in the KwaZulu-Natal race last time round were the ANC, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the DA. Together they received 95% of the vote in 2009. The ANC grew its share from just over 47% to nearly 64% – an increase of over 900 000 votes.

In this election, the ANC will drop below 50% of the total vote if it gets 1.9-million votes or less. That’s a drop of about 300 000 votes. The number of registered voters has risen by around 600 000 this election, but only around 480 000 of those voters will likely go to the polls.

That means about 780 000 votes need to go elsewhere to keep the ANC under 50%. Plus, there are Cope’s votes of 55 000, and the votes of the other smaller parties together. Either the IFP needs to regain control of the votes it lost in 2009 and then some, or the DA has to come galloping up on the outside to take some of those votes.

Another scenario would be a number of votes going to the new National Freedom Party (NFP), a new party that split from the IFP just ahead of the 2011 local elections and went on to win over 800 000, or about 11% of the vote in that election. The NFP is likely to make its presence felt in this, its first national election, though opposition parties typically perform better at local elections.


The only party that came out positive in that election was Cope, which won 111 000 votes. This was ANC territory in 2009. It holds 85% of the votes, despite losing 167 000 votes in 2009. Strangely, 11 000 less votes were cast in 2009 than in 2004. The number of registered voters increased by 68 000, but the voter turnout dropped from 77% to 70%, the lowest turnout of all the provinces in 2009.

Even the DA lost nearly 6 000 votes that year. The UDM plummeted by 22 000 votes to a mere 5 000 in 2009, and the ACDP lost over 10 000.

This year, there are 177 000 more voters, 36% of whom are 18- to 19-year-olds. About 137 000 of those new voters can be expected to vote. The ANC needs about 950 00 votes to get over 50%. For another party to win a majority, the ANC will first have to lose 383 000 of the votes it won in 2009.

With Cope the only contender with any potential in the last election, it looks unlikely that any party will knock the ANC off the top spot in this province. The EFF and Agang SA may be able to make inroads – the leaders of both those parties come from Limpopo. But a debut of 950 000 votes seems unlikely.


The DA is on the rise in this province, gaining nearly 21 000 votes, which didn’t make a big difference to its percentages, but it is a hopeful sign for the party. Cope won only 38 000 votes in this province during its first outing. The other parties are waning. Mpumalanga is the other ANC stronghold. The party increased its total number of votes by 173 500 in the last election, even though its overall percentage of the votes dropped slightly.

For the ANC to lose its majority, it will have to drop 500 000 votes to around 700 000 votes. There are 150 000 new voters on the market this year – 36% of them first-timers. Around 116 000 will probably go to the polls.

If those voters, plus the people who voted for all the other parties (which comes to about 49 000) decided to vote strategically for the DA, that would add 165 000 votes, bringing it to just over 260 000 votes. It would need another 440 000 from the ANC to get a majority.

North West

The ANC lost 261 000 votes in 2009 in North West, dropping from 82% to 74%. This could be ascribed to the drop of 185 000 in the number of registered voters, and overall a 218 000 drop in votes cast – this could be a result of the voter turnout dropping from 77% to 73%.

The DA grew its numbers by 24 000, rising from 5.5% to 8.7%. Cope got off to a cracking start with 93 000 votes. And, surprisingly, the FF+ added 957 votes to its tally in 2009. The United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP) was the biggest loser, plummeting by 42 600 votes.

This year, the number of registered voters has increased by 100 500 – 37% of whom are first-timers – and around 77 000 of them can be expected to vote. The ANC needs just 641 000 this time around to gain 50% of the votes to put it in power. It is home-free unless it loses another 200 000 in this election.

The EFF is expected to get some votes in the platinum belt, where the party held its launch. If the Cope voters decide to vote for the DA, it would raise the party’s total to around 181 000. If the party got all the other votes for all the other parties except the ANC, it could breach the 650 000 mark that it would need to become the province’s majority. That’s unlikely.

Northern Cape

The ANC got 61% (253 000) of the Northern Cape’s vote in 2009. It added 31 000 votes to its 2004 total, yet its percentage of the vote dropped from 69% in 2004.

The DA added 16 800 votes, bringing its total to just over 54 000 (13%). Cope debuted with 66 000 votes (16%). The UCDP also improved its performance, gaining 3 500 votes, and even the FF+ added 130 votes.

The ID, the fourth-best performer, dropped from 21 000 to 19 500 votes (4.7%). All these increases can be accounted for by the 91 783 new voters who registered for the 2009 elections and the 23 000 people who previously voted for the NNP who had to find a new home.

This election will see an additional 45 000 registered voters, 32% of whom are newbies. About 35 000 of them will most likely cast their ballot.

To win 50% of the votes in this election, a party must get just under 231 000 votes. The ANC just needs to retain its 253 000 voters to do that. With voters’ feelings towards Cope uncertain now, the DA is the most likely party to take on the ANC. It needs to find 180 000 additional votes. To do that, it needs to win over Cope’s 66 000, the 35 000 newly registered voters, which will give it 110 000. It needs to find an additional 70 000 votes – the votes for all the other parties together add up to about 41 000. The ANC will have to lose a lot of voters to make a DA majority possible.

Western Cape

The Western Cape is the DA’s big success story. It gained 500 000 votes in the 2009 election, increasing its share from 432 000 to 990 000 from 27% to 49%, making it the majority party in the province. The message in this could be that if it could happen in this province, it can happen in another one (or two, or three) – or so the DA hopes.

The ANC shed 76 000 votes, dropping from 742 000 to 666 000 (46% to 33%). Cope was the other big player in 2009, with 183 000 votes or 9%.

There were 400 000 newly registered voters in the province in 2009 and 150 000 votes that had formerly been given to the NNP, plus the ACDP and the ID shed 64 000 votes between them. This election sees 300 000 new voters, 20% of them newbies, and around 231 000 of them will go to the polls.

If the DA wants 50% of the vote this time around, it needs 1.13-million votes. It’s only about 300 000 votes off that, if it manages to retain its 2009 voters. With the new voters and potentially the Cope vote, it may well be able to do it.

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