NEWS & ANALYSIS

Our response to Ferial Haffajee's alarmist 'freefall' claim – DA

Solly Malatsi says party's current support levels are nowhere near the 13% that Ipsos poll claims

DA responds to Haffajee's alarmist 'freefall' claim

24 February 2020

The basis of Ferial Haffajee’s alarmist claim (“DA support in free fall, two new surveys show", Daily Maverick, Monday 24 February) that the DA’s support is in “freefall” is based on two surveys which have major shortcomings.

The fieldwork of the Ipsos survey she heavily relies on was concluded three months ago – a key fact she deliberately omits.

Much has changed since then.

Let’s rewind back three months. At that time the party’s leader, federal chairperson and mayor of a prominent metro voluntarily left the organisation following the successive resignations of professional personnel such as the CEO and campaign manager. The party was undeniably at a low point.

Many outside the DA marked this as the beginning of the end of the party. They predicted there would an “exodus” of senior leaders.

Fast forward to today, the false prophecies are there for all to see. The party moved quickly to elect the interim leader and replaced the party chairperson without any turmoil. We immediately announced dates for the early elective congress to give party members the opportunity to elect new leaders. We are on track to finalise the appointment of a new CEO by April. Furthermore, we revealed plans for the policy conference with the unprecedented step of publishing policy proposals publicly to source as much extensive input both inside and outside the party.

All of these key developments have taken place without the dramatic collapse many had anticipated. No other prominent DA leaders have left the organisation. We have even managed to hold on to the majority of our wards in the by-elections were we supposed to lose.

For those of us who have been following Ipsos political polling for some time, we review their results with caution given the consistent differences between their pre-election polls and voting results.

For example:

In their press release one day before the 2009 general election on 21 April 2009, (“2009 National Election: Possible results”), Ipsos predicted an average 13% support for the DA, with results ranging between 11.34% and 14.66%. The DA eventually received 16.66% of the vote;

In a poll conducted in May 2010, approximately a year out from the 2011 local government election, Ipsos predicted 13% support for the DA nationally. One year later, the DA received 23.94% of the national vote, almost doubling Ipsos’ prediction;

Most recently, in polling released on 29 April 2019, on the eve of the 2019 general election, Ipsos had the ANC on 61% (vs. 57.5%) and the DA on 19% (vs. 20.7%) on their 71% turnout scenario, with a 2% percent margin of error. While the DA result was within the top range of this margin of error, the result forecast for the ANC was outside of this range, pointing to serious methodological errors in their work.

The Citizen Surveys which misinforms Haffajee’s analysis also makes the fundamental error of equating the favourability of a party leader to the support levels of the party.

John Steenhuisen has been the interim leader for a mere three months, and clearly will not yet have as broad a name recognition as that of the DA itself. This is always the case when a new leader is elected, and the challenge is overcome in the first major election campaign. While the profile and favourability of a party leader are important in leveraging support for any organisation, the reality is that South African voters don’t make their decision to vote for a party solely based on how they feel about its leader. They do so based on their feelings about the party, amongst other important considerations, informed by the fact that our country has a party system rather than a presidential one.

So for Haffajee to compare the favourability of a leader who has been in office for three months, with one who was in office since 2014, through two major election campaigns, is to expediently abuse polling to drive a narrative of misleading comparisons.

We do our own polling, which has consistently been accurate. It shows that our current support levels are nowhere near the 13% that the Ipsos poll claims. In fact we are polling at the same support levels we got during national elections.

When polling is done correctly, it’s highly informative and useful - not only for political parties but for journalists, analysts and most importantly, the public to keep track of political trends and developments.

However, when its methodology is flawed, it produces questionable results. These results are subsequently punted by many journalists like Haffajee and some analysts with evangelical vigour as the gospel without robust interrogation.

This reckless reporting on polls resurfaces into crazy headlines presenting propaganda as news while suffocating logic out of the ensuing debate that follows.

Ultimately for us, the poll which matters the most is the one on Election Day.

Issued by Solly MalatsiDA National Spokesperson, 24 February 2020