/ 19 October 2018

Court the women’s vote in 2019

Voters queue in Primrose informal settlement on the East Rand. The women’s vote nationally could have a significant impact on the outcomes of next year’s elections.
Voters queue in Primrose informal settlement on the East Rand. The women’s vote nationally could have a significant impact on the outcomes of next year’s elections. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

A new study finds that women voters, who carry the bulk of the socioeconomic and inequality burden, may put socioeconomic rights above party loyalties in the coming national elections


If we dig beyond our much-lauded high representation of women in Parliament and our constitutionally enshrined right to equality, South Africa’s gender divide is still profound — and this may be a reason women appear to be shifting away from the ANC.

This decline in women’s support for the governing party is one of the findings of a new study by the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) into what drives voting decisions in South Africa, which was released earlier this month.

This is a first-of-its-kind deep dive into what matters most to the voting populace, and what predictive value can be ascribed to the demographics that divide and unite us, such as gender, race and age.

In previous regional and limited research, the first signs of a new trend in the political landscape started to emerge. This was a self-reported move away from traditional party loyalties and towards prioritising socioeconomic rights. Now, drawing from a 2017 survey and subsequent statistical analyses, new trends on a national scale can be examined. This includes asking to what extent government performance in delivering socioeconomic rights, as well as perceptions of corruption and governance, are likely to influence voter preferences in the 2019 elections.

More than 3 390 people, from a random and nationally representative sample, with an equal number of male and female respondents, took part in the study.

In the results, the ruling party remains the dominant choice, with most respondents saying they would probably support the ANC (53%) at the polls next year, followed by the Democratic Alliance (22%) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) (6%). Five percent said they would not vote and 6% would not answer the question. The support for the respective parties is higher if the latter are taken into account.

The ANC still holds the trust of most respondents, and a reputation as the party that ushered in democracy.

Although loyalty to the party that brought “freedom and democracy to the country” is still clearly a factor, it was not statistically significant in the modelling. A critical departure emerged when people were asked to consider which was more important — democratic rights or socioeconomic wellbeing.

The majority (44.6%) said socioeconomic wellbeing was the top concern. Moreover, those who valued socioeconomic rights (and who were concerned about high levels of unemployment, poor income and poor housing delivery) were less likely to vote for the governing party, perhaps because they perceive a weakening in delivery of these rights by the ANC-led government.

And the statistical analysis, using a logistic regression model, revealed, among other things, a clear gender slant. Women respondents report being less likely to vote for the ANC in the next election compared with their male peers.

Put differently, men are 33% times more likely to vote for the ANC than women. This is contrary to earlier findings by market researcher Ipsos in 2016 that more women voted for the ANC (55%) and the DA (53%) in the local government elections than men, whereas fewer women than men voted for the EFF (40%).

How do we make sense of these diverging paths?

When this is contextualised by using additional research, a picture emerges of women burdened by unemployment and the bulk of the caretaking load. The United Nations Global Gender Inequality Index, for example, ranks South Africa 90th out of 148 countries.

According to Statistics South Africa, the rate of unemployment among women in the second quarter of 2018 was 29.5% compared with 25.3% among men, using the official definition of unemployment. If the expanded definition is applied, the gap in the rate of unemployment between women and men widens to 7.5 percentage points.

Additionally, they report that women are more likely than men to be involved in unpaid work, which remains invisible in national economic statistics.

Finally, data from the World Economic Forum, 2017, shows that a South African man earns on average 67% more than a woman — the sixth- largest gender pay gap in Africa.

In the findings of the new study, the influence of social grant receipt on voting preferences provided a rich layer of understanding about the influence of social protection on voting behaviour.

What is important is that, although both recipients and nonrecipients of grants were more likely to vote for the ANC than for an opposition party, there was no statistically significant difference between male grant recipients and nonrecipients in voter choice, but this was not the case for women.

Here, there was a small but statistically significant difference between female grant recipients and nonrecipients in terms of voter choice. Female grant recipients were more likely to vote for the ANC than nonrecipients. Grant recipients who feared losing their grant if they voted for another party were twice as likely to vote for the ANC. Because 98% of child support grant beneficiaries are women, this is a significant finding.

These findings are the first of three waves of research planned until October 2019, and for now one can only surmise what is driving the gender preferences emerging from the findings.

It is an issue that requires further research. But it is clear that “bread-and-butter” issues — socioeconomic rights protection and implementation, trust in government institutions, trust in the president of the country, issues of governance and the perception of increased corruption — are becoming priorities for voters.

And women voters appear to be more discerning in how they plan to exercise their votes.

All parties would do well to understand and respond to the coming shift, and that women will be leading the charge in this direction.

The new study at a glance

The main facts and findings in the Centre for Social Development in Africa’s study into the demographics of South African voters and what influenced their choice are:

  • Most respondents were aged between 18 and 34 (49%), 43% were 35 to 59 years old and 7% were older than 60.
  • 75% of respondents were black, 11% coloured, 11% white and 3% Indian/Asian.
  • Most respondents were working (49%) as opposed to not working (19%) or unemployed (32%). Respondents were largely poor and fell into the lower- and middle-income bands.
  • In terms of education 50% of respondents have grade 12 as the highest level of education, 28% secondary school and 4% primary school. A further 4% of respondents have an artisan’s certificate, 6% have a technikon diploma and 4% have a university degree.
  • Most respondents said they intended to vote for the ANC (53%) in 2019, followed by the Democratic Alliance (22%) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) (6%). Just 5% of respondents said that they would not vote.
  • When asked which people consider to be more important — democratic rights or socioeconomic wellbeing — the majority (44.6%) said socioeconomic wellbeing.
  • Almost 24% of respondents received a grant from the government. Of the respondents who received a grant, 73% said that they would vote ANC. And 61% of respondents who did not receive a grant said they would vote ANC.
  • In post-analysis statistical modelling, however, receipt of a government grant was not found to be statistically significant in predicting voters’ party choice; the fear of losing a grant should a new party come to power was significant. Those who held this fear are more likely to vote ANC in the 2019 general election.
  • Of all respondents, 14.6% said that one reason they voted for a particular party was that they “receive a government grant and are afraid that another party will not give [them] a grant”. One in four grant recipients said this was their reason for their party choice. It is not the provision of social grants but the fear of their removal that appears to be the primary motivator.

Fear of losing grants influences voter choice

The Centre for Social Development in Africa report highlights five headline findings:

1. ANC support is declining

Support for the ANC continues to decline, sitting at 53% of total respondents (11% of the total said they would not vote or did not know who they would vote for), but the biggest opposition parties are unlikely to be able to achieve majorities, opening the door to coalition governance.

2. Seismic shifts have begun

The data shows that “trust in the party” emerged as the main reason for voting for a particular political party (37%). Second was that the party brought freedom and democracy (35%), and the likelihood that a party will bring a better life was a close third (32%).

3. Fear factor

Although 86% of respondents said they did not think that receipt of a social grant affected their voting preferences, this was not the case for social grant beneficiaries. A quarter of social grant beneficiaries indicated that fears that they could lose their social grants if they voted for another party were influential in their voting choices. See more below.

4. Predictive factors

The statistical analysis found perceptions of governance, socioeconomic rights protection and corruption to be significant predictive factors. Plus, factors such as age, race, education and gender were all shown to be statistically significant in the analysis.

5. Women lead

Women respondents are less likely to vote for the ANC in the next election compared with their male counterparts.

Leila Patel is South African research chair in welfare and social development, and director of the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg. Yolanda Sadie is professor in politics at the University of Johannesburg and Megan Bryer is a researcher at the centre