50% of South Africans think Zuma not performing well - Ipsos

48% of survey respondents believe country is going in wrong direction, up from 29% in 2009

Ipsos Poll: South Africans dissatisfied with government performance in key policy areas

"As only about a third of South Africans are of the opinion that the country is going in the right direction, it should come as no surprise that the public are not impressed with government performance in most of the policy areas we measure," says Mari Harris, Director of Public Affairs at Ipsos South Africa. "Looking at the trend over the last three years, there has actually been a decline in public perception of how well the government is doing. According to Ipsos' "traffic light measurement", 15 out of the 25 policy areas were rated as ‘red lights'[1] (i.e. 50% or below) in November 2011.  A year later in 2012, 17 policy areas fell into this category, while in November 2013, most of the policy areas fell into the red light category - 22 out of the 25 policy areas" states Harris.

These findings are according to polls by market and opinion research company, Ipsos.  TheIpsos Government Performance Barometer measures public perceptions about the government's performance in handling key policy areas as well as the views on the performance of the president, deputy president and the national government. These polls are undertaken every six months.

In November 2013 a total of 3,564 randomly chosen adult South Africans were interviewed in their homes and home languages (see Technical Detail at the end of press release for more information).

An important indicator of the mood in the country is the question on whether the country is moving in the "right" or the "wrong" direction. In the five years since the previous election, the proportion of South Africans who said that the country was moving in the right direction has steadily declined. At the same time, the proportion saying that the country was moving in the wrong direction increased.  Currently almost half of South Africans (48%) feel that the country is moving in the wrong direction. (The remainder -, i.e. 18% in November 2013 - are uncertain.)

It is important to try and find reasons for the source (or sources) of this feeling of apprehension about the direction in which the country is going.  Ipsos measures the evaluation of the public of 25 government policy areas in the areas of the economy, social issues and governance and administration.

Government Policy well did they do?

Respondents are asked whether he/she feels that the government is performing "very well", "fairly well", "not really well" or "not at all well" in each of the areas. In the  graphs overleaf the proportions who indicated that they thought the government was handling the particular issue "very well" or "fairly well" are summarised:

It is clear that the economy is a source of deep concern for South Africans - all six policy areas are in the red, with four of them registering a decline of more than 2%.[2]  The issue of unemployment has been identified as the most important issue in the country in all polls of this nature done by Ipsos since 1994. After 20 years of democracy it not only needs urgent action, but a radical and workable plan, combined with the political will to change the circumstances of so many South Africans. Currently almost a third (31%)  of South Africans are unemployed and looking for work, while a further 6% are unemployed and not currently looking for work.[3]

Social Issues slightly better than Economic Issues

The handling of social issues by the government is seen slightly better than the handling of economic issues.  However, for six of the nine social issues there also was a decline of two percent or more over the last year.  In the whole study only two policy issues, namely "building houses" and "delivery of basic services such and water and electricity" achieved a 2% increase in the proportion who thought that these issues are handled "very well" or "fairly well" - although the actual satisfaction levels are still very low.

The area of governance and administration covers a wide scope, as can be seen below.  However, the scores of 7 of the 10 governance and administration issues also decreased by 2% or more, confirming the overall finding that South Africans are currently very critical about government performance.

In summary thus:

The Government Performance Barometer also investigates how the work done by the president, deputy president and national government (in general) is perceived. In keeping with previous results of the policy areas the perception of the work done by the president, deputy president and national government are also on much lower levels than what it was just after the previous election in 2009:


In November 2013 half of adult South Africans were of the opinion that the president is not doing his job well, while a smaller proportion of 46% indicated that he was doing very well (17%) or fairly well (29%). However, the deputy president and national government in general are in much the same situation.

On Thursday evening South Africans will listen to President Zuma's State of the Nation speech with interest, as they would like to hear more than election promises, but rather some clear direction regarding the way in which the government plans to address the issues the electorate are concerned about, how the government will rebuild credibility, consolidate resources and deliver on the plans that exist and make new plans to create some hope for the future.  

Technical detail:

A total of 3564 personal face-to-face interviews were conducted with randomly selected adult South Africans. The interviews were done in the homes and home languages of respondents.  Trained quantitative fieldworkers from all population groups were responsible for the interviewing, which took place from 22 October to 21 November 2013.  Interviews were done all over the country, from metropolitan areas to deep rural areas. This methodology ensured that the results are representative of the views of the universe and that findings can be weighted and projected to the universe - i.e. South Africans 18 years and older.

Interviews were done using CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing) and all results were collated and analysed in an aggregate format to protect the identity and confidentiality of respondents.

All sample surveys are subject to a margin of error, determined by sample size, sampling methodology and response rate. The sample error for the sample as a whole at a 95% confidence level is a maximum of 1,67%. 

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[1] The findings of the poll on government performance are presented in the form of a traffic light: red light areas (50% and below) needing immediate attention and action; orange light areas (from 51% to 74%) needing urgent attention and green light areas (75% and above) needing maintenance.

[2] This is statistically significant, as the margin of error for the study is 1,67.

[3] 35% are working (either full-time or part-time) and 28% are students, housewives or retired. 

Statement issued by Mari Harris, Director Ipsos Public Affairs, February 12 2014

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