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Trust in Presidency up, courts and media down — survey

Trust in the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa has emerged as the biggest determining factor in voter preference for the governing party, according to a three-year study conducted by the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA). While citizen trust in Parliament and the police service have increased since 2017, trust in the country’s courts and the media have declined substantially.

Of the 3 431 respondents, most (56%) said the ANC would get their vote in the upcoming national elections, up from 53% in the previous survey conducted between 2014 and 2017. Votes for the Democratic Alliance have decreased significantly from 22% previously to 13%. The Economic Freedom Fighters gained 9% of respondents’ votes up from 6% before.

“Ramaphosa is certainly a game changer,” says CSDA professor Leila Patel. She explained that the statistics show that the public has a lot of hope in Ramaphosa. “If we compared that [the trust in the presidency] to former president Jacob Zuma when the trust in the president was very low — 26% compared to trust in Ramaphosa now at 55%.”

Professor Victoria Graham, an associate professor from the department of politics and international relations at the University of Johannesburg, says the fact that trust in the presidency was the single biggest predictor is concerning.

“I’m actually worried about his health. Because if something happens to him, what does that mean for our country? It’s good in a way for us and the ANC definitely but in terms of a successful democracy, we need a stronger ANC as a whole. You can’t have one man remain the main leader. Unfortunately, in my view, we don’t have a strong cohort of leaders in the ANC.”

CSDA found that trust in other institutions such as the South Africa Social Security Agency, the police service, and the department of social development have all increased, while trust in the media and the courts have declined.

“The decline in trust in the rule of law is a concerning issue. Our criminal justice system generically has huge flaws and perhaps people are seeing this,” Graham said. “It’s really worrying as these are core components of a successful democracy.”

Other factors driving party support

Other significant variables in determining support for the governing party included the perception of corruption, race, income, fear of loss of grants, and the belief that the party “brought freedom and democracy”.

Despite seeming positivity towards government institutions, the vast majority of respondents (72%) held the view that corruption had increased in the previous year. Similar to the previous survey results, race continues to be a predictor with black voters being more likely to select the ANC than an opposition party.

Moreover, according to Patel says that older persons and those with lower incomes are more likely to prefer the ANC than opposition parties. Conversely, support from richer respondents leans towards the opposition.

Another important determiner in voting preferences was the fear or loss of receiving social grants. The survey results found that 48% of all respondents said that one reason they voted for a particular party was “because it pays social grants and I am afraid that another party will stop social grants”. This sentiment increased steeply from 14.6% in the previous survey.

Patel explains that the sentiments toward grants shows that it is not the grant provision itself that encourages a vote for the incumbent party, but fear of its removal should another party come to power. This suggests a strong policy preference for social grants for this group of potential voters.

Graham adds that this finding speaks to the idea that people are active citizens and have strong policy preference. However, she also notes that it shows people do not understand the constitutional rights.

“Linking social grants to a specific party would suggest that they don’t really have an understanding that it is a constitutional right. [Non-governmental] organisation Section 27 assures that there will be social security assistance and that is not determined by a specific party, but rather the duty of the state,” she concluded.

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M&G Data Desk
The Data Desk is the centre for data journalism at Mail & Guardian
Jacques Coetzee
Jacques Coetzee
Jacques Coetzee is the Adamela Data Fellow at the Mail & Guardian, a position funded by the Indigo Trust.

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