/ 3 May 2019

Gauteng: Too close to call for ANC

Polls put the ANC’s support in the smallest
Polls put the ANC’s support in the smallest, most populous province at 42%, or 56%, depending whom you ask. As polls can be used to mobilise voters or demoralise the opposition, it’s simply not clear who will take Gauteng. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

A party divided, disappointed voters, ‘clever blacks’ and flawed polls; everything is in play in the prized provinceahead of the May 8 election, as the ANC tries to clingto its slim majority

Vastly different views emerged this week on the ANC’s performance in Gauteng. The party’s own research places its support at 56%, while the Democratic Alliance’s polling shows that the governing party faces an outright loss of the province, at 44%.

Electoral analysts say the true reflection is probably somewhere in the middle, with the race simply being too close to call and parties “playing politics” in releasing their research with a week to go before the general election.

Independent pollsters also diverge on the party’s performance, with the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) predicting a loss of the province for the ANC at 42% due to its poor performance. Its predictions also paint a dismal picture of the DA’s fortunes in the Western Cape, placing its support at 44.6%.

Although analysts have dismissed opinion surveys as a poor reflection of the actual result on the day, the ANC’s research — based on face-to-face interviews conducted at the end of March and in early April — shows just how many things are influencing voters. This includes the finding that one in two voters in Gauteng are not loyal to any political party, implying that sentiment can be influenced and shift right up to the final hours in the run-up to May 8.

It is understood that the ANC research shows that the black middle class, older voters, division in the ANC, perceptions about corruption and general disappointment are all factors that could influence the outcome of the poll.

The survey shows that the upper end of the black middle class — the so-called “clever blacks” — are less likely to vote for the ANC, and more inclined to vote for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) or the DA. Yet the broader black middle class, defined by researchers using a number of factors including earning more than R11 000 a month, mostly supports the ANC with 56%, while 63% of voters outside of this group support the party. But party pollsters say the 56% figure is still high, given the economic impact of state capture, load-shedding, higher fuel prices and other factors that hit this group hard.

Though the township vote is critical to the ANC succeeding in Gauteng, ANC head of elections Lebogang Maile describes the black middle class as significant too, because it is “influential” in its social and family circles. Maile says that although the black middle class is largely a product of ANC policies, the party cannot take the support of the group as for granted.

“We have to remain humble and respect the views of all groupings,” he says.

Support for the ANC among older voters (over 70) has also slipped. At its worst, during the Zuma era, it went as low as 50%. Even with some of that vote being clawed back in the run-up to this election, such a drop is big for a group of voters that has historically been loyal to a party that it grew up with.

The research shows that division in the ANC is a sticking point among voters in the province, with 43% saying this was a concern. The run-up to the elections has been characterised by conflicting voices from the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters, its secretary general Ace Magashule, President Cyril Ramaphosa and those loyal to him.

These divisions are understood to have played themselves out along the campaign trail, with the party leagues such as the ANC Youth League and the ANC Women’s League divided in the way they contributed to the campaign. Although the youth league nationally has been glaringly absent, the women’s league, particularly its youth desk, has been active.

According to sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, there were also concerns about a faction in Gauteng that is already laying the groundwork to co-operate with the EFF after the election. But Maile says he is unaware of any formal or informal coalition talks under way in the province.

The ANC research also provided insight into perceptions about the opposition — with 42% viewing the DA as “racist” and 27% viewing the EFF as “divisive”. Approval of political party plans and the potential to create jobs was highest for the ANC. At the same time, 67% of those polled felt the ANC had disappointed them.

On polls such as those of the DA and the IRR that show the ANC on the back foot in Gauteng, Maile says an election is “fought until the very last day”. He says the party in the province is under pressure to work hard to avoid losing any support.

DA chief executive Jonathan Moakes, referring to the DA’s research, says the situation remains “very, very fluid”.

“Everything does depend on turnout. Anything can happen. Things are changing on an almost daily basis,” he says. Regarding the Western Cape, Moakes says the DA is confident it will retain the majority in the province, but adds that it is “going to be neck and neck”.

The ANC’s research is at odds with the DA’s, as well as that of the IRR’s poll. Professor Ivor Sarakinsky from the Wits School of Governance says this divergence between polls shows the deep flaws in the way polling is done in South Africa.

In fact, Sarakinsky believes that the release of the polls are political plays ahead of the crucial election, to mobilise their party faithful into turning up to vote or to demoralise the opposition’s voters.

His assessment is that the elections are too close to call and a more useful analysis is to look at voting trends over the past 15 years. If one does this, the ANC is in more trouble than its own research indicates, he says.

“Based simply on looking at historical trends [of] ANC Gauteng support over a 15-year period, it is dramatically down and between 2009 and 2014, it’s down 10%. Now that’s a big number of voters — it’s hundreds of thousands, it’s big numbers showing a trend. And then in 2016, down to 46%, so in two years it recorded a seven percentage point drop.

“Part of that is the Zuma effect. You then [must] look at whether the Ramaphoria effect has an impact, and if they get back even half of the support they got between 2014 and 2016, that is around 50%; it is too close to call.”

Electoral analyst Dawie Scholtz, who bases his predictions on modelling using electoral trends in elections and by-elections, places support for the ANC in Gauteng in the 46%-to-51% range. But he says there have not been by-elections for the past month, so the prediction is dated and much could have shifted during that time.

Scholtz says he can’t pinpoint which pollster is right, except to say that the race in Gauteng is an incredibly close one. The radical difference in party numbers could suggest that the polls are picking up some major shifts in the electorate.

Moakes says the DA is picking up “something very interesting” among black voters in Gauteng, while Maile indicates that the impact of the ANC’s reform agenda is shifting sentiment toward the party.

In the end, the ANC in Gauteng may have to form a coalition to run the province, but much still depends on the last five days ahead of this crucial race. Its own survey shows an aversion to coalitions by the electorate.

Election results will begin streaming in shortly after the polls close on Wednesday next week, with the final result to be officially announced on Saturday, May 11.