/ 19 February 2024

ANC internal polls show Cyril Ramaphosa still more popular than party

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Gwede Mantashe and Cyril Ramaphosa at the 112th ANC anniversary rally in Mbombela on January 13, 2024. (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP) / ALTERNATE CROP

Much like it did in the 2019 general elections, the ANC will hedge its bets on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s popularity to deliver a victory in this year’s watershed national elections. 

The ANC’s head of elections, Mdumiseni Ntuli, said as much during an interview with the Mail & Guardian last week when he revealed that internal polling shows Ramaphosa is still more popular than the ruling party itself.

The ANC’s top brass, including Ramaphosa, will be stationed in KwaZulu-Natal this week where the party will deliver its manifesto document to its prospective voters. 

Ntuli said the party was expecting another internal poll by the end of the month as an indicator of whether Ramaphosa remained the most popular figure in politics. He said the  previous poll — which the M&G understands to have been presented to the national executive committee (NEC) late last year — indicated that Ramaphosa was more popular than the ANC.

“If you look at the polls that have gone on, which we’ve seen throughout the year, and last year, the president was polling slightly above the ANC as an organisation. I don’t know what will be the situation in the poll we are expecting now,” Ntuli said.

“I do think that we will see what comes out by the end of February. But my sense is that … President Ramaphosa is still polling better than all other party presidents in the country.” 

He said internal polls suggested that Ramaphosa’s popularity was higher than that of his counterparts including Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) president Julius Malema. 

While the polling suggests a level of unhappiness with the ANC’s performance, Ntuli said it also shows that there is no obvious alternative, at the level of leadership, to that provided by the ANC.

“I do think that that on its own becomes an advantage for the ANC, that our own leader is polling better than the rest of the leaders in the country. I think that’s an advantageous platform for us to campaign in the elections,” he said.

He however conceded that the “Ramaphoria” which had engulfed the country in the first years of the ANC president’s term had taken a knock. But Ntuli said while Ramaphosa’s approval rating had been affected, this was not significant.

In 2019, Ntuli’s predecessor Fikile Mbalula admitted that the ANC used Ramaphosa’s popularity to regain its majority, albeit marginally. Mbalula said the ruling party would have received 40% of the vote in that year’s national election, had Ramaphosa not won the party’s Nasrec leadership election against Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in 2017.

In last week’s interview, Ntuli said in 2019, Ramaphosa appealed to a segment of the country’s population that the ANC had historically failed to attract in big numbers.

“So I think the NEC was justified to say that the Ramaphosa presence had a particular impact,” he added.

An external poll by the Social Research Foundation last November suggested that former president Thabo Mbeki was more popular in the party than Ramaphosa. Mbeki scored 70% with ANC supporters while DA supporters scored him 45% and EFF supporters, 53%. Ramaphosa scored 68% from ANC supporters, 27% from DA supporters and 33% from EFF supporters.

The ANC’s manifesto launch will test Ramaphosa’s popularity in KwaZulu-Natal, where he has struggled to gain favour due to former party president Jacob Zuma’s ominous presence. 

“The standing of the president in KZN today is far better than it was in 2019. If you remember, in 2019, it was at the back of JZ being recalled, who was very popular in KZN, but equally very angry with Ramaphosa,” Ntuli said.

“So, my own view is that … I think the president enjoys much better support in KZN than he did in 2019. Given the way in which we were able to pull the rally we had makes me feel that it should not be difficult for us to pull the same kind of rally and even above that.”