A strong EFF vote portends trouble

William Saunderson-Meyer assesses the IRR and Ipsos' differing polling predictions

Voter intentions are notoriously difficult to gauge. Witness all the pollsters with egg on their faces, following the unpredicted results of the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election.

There’s plenty of room for error, no matter how carefully the sample is weighted. There’s also always a time lag between polling and voting, so unfolding events constantly mould and reshape the political landscape. 

Nevertheless, two polls just released give some fascinating possible scenarios, for South Africa once next week’s votes are counted. 

Ipsos polled 3,600 people between the last week of March and mid-April, with a claimed maximum error margin of 2 percentage points on either side of their prediction. The Institute of Race Relations polled 2,375 voters is a little fresher, conducted in the week running to 25 April, with a stated 2.8% margin of error.

The IRR confidence level is 95% — meaning that 95% of the time, the figures on election day will not vary more than the maximum margin or error. Ipsos does not provide its confidence level. The Ipsos research was conducted face-to-face, the IRR telephonically.

One will only know next week which is the superior pollster, but Ipsos does itself no favours by mysteriously refusing to provide a full breakdown of its results. The IRR poll, in contrast, is contained in a 14-page document that exhaustively explains its methodology and analyses the trends since February.

Perhaps the biggest single takeaway, a grim omen for SA’s future, is the vigorous growth of the Economic Freedom Fighters. In 2014, in their first election in 2014, the EFF drew 6.4% of the national vote, less than the 7.4% the Congress of the People got in 2009 when its supporters broke from the African National Congress.

But while Cope went on to collapse to 0.67% in its second election in 2014 and is predicted to fall further in this one, Ipsos puts EFF support now at 11%. The IRR’s prediction is around 14-15%, depending on voter turnout. 

This means that the racist and violent EFF is likely to at least double their vote nationally. The EFF will then be within striking distance of displacing the Democratic Alliance as the biggest opposition party in Parliament and it may provincially hold the balance of power in the Western Cape and Gauteng.

Mari Harris of Ipsos says that EFF is also in the running to be the official opposition in three provinces: Limpopo, North West, and Mpumalanga. The detailed results of this poll have not yet been released by Ipsos, but are due shortly.

Nationally, Ipsos places the ANC on 61%, which would be only a marginal decline from the 62% it achieved in 2014. In contrast, the IRR results show the ANC majority to be in danger at 50-51%. 

Were the IRR predictions proved correct, the romance we have seen developing recently between the ANC and EFF would likely be consummated. Together, they would be nudging a two-thirds majority in Parliament, with 64-66% of the vote, but probably not quite equalling the ANC’s best showing of 70% in 2004, under Thabo Mbeki.

There is less of a difference between the pollsters on the DA’s likely fortunes. Ipsos puts the DA vote at 19% and IRR puts it in the 21-24% range. Such a result would be hugely disappointing for the DA, which got over 22% in 2014 and has seen its vote grow significantly in every election since 1994.

Given the disarray in ANC ranks, SA’s faltering economy, the growing violence and corruption, this would be a textbook case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It is difficult to see how  Mmusi Maimane could survive at the helm.

The IRR research specifically focused on two key provinces, those of Western Cape and Gauteng, using smaller samples and consequently with a higher error margin of 6%.

In the Western Cape, it puts DA support in the 45-51% range, depending on turnout. The ANC has a smaller range of 28-29%. That leaves the African Christian Democratic Party at 7% and the EFF on 5-7%. 

The trajectories here are interesting. The ACDP has doubled its support in the Western Cape since February, while over the same period the EFF has rocketed from a mere 1%. 

Although it is difficult to predict accurately the performance of small parties, the Western Cape minnows seem pretty much moribund. The Good Movement, Patricia de Lille’s breakaway from the DA, is likely to draw under 3% of the vote. The Freedom Front Plus and the United Democratic Movement are both under 2%.

In Gauteng, the IRR gauges ANC support at 39-43%, depending on turnout, which would be substantially down from the 54% it got in 2014. The DA range is 32-40% — and trending upwards from February — while the EFF vote is surprisingly modest at 12-13%, trending downwards from February. The DA scored 31% of the vote in 2014 and the EFF 10%.

At a national level, there is no comfort from either pollster for the small parties. The Capitalist Party (ZACP), which has caused a social media stir and also received good mainstream media coverage, did not budge the needle in the IRR poll.  

Ipsos predicts 3% in the national vote for the Inkatha Freedom Party and 1% for Freedom Front Plus. It sees all the other parties, which for some strange reason it does not list individually, collectively garnering 5%. The IRR research concurs on the likely IFP and FF+ performances. 

Unlike Ipsos, the IRR gives a detailed breakdown of the micro-parties. The ACDP, despite the running it appears to be making in the Western Cape, is predicted to drop nationally from 1.6% in 2014 to 1%; the UDM to go down from 1% to 0.5%, and Cope's vote halving to 0.3%.

Both polls point to a democracy that is creaking and an electorate that is alienated from its leaders. On the Ipsos trust index, Cyril Ramaphosa scored 45. Maimane and Julius Malema scored minus 31 and minus 37, respectively.

Despite the plethora of parties, Ipsos found that 37% of respondents said that no political party represented their views. A staggering 40% agreed, further, that violent protest is the only way to get service delivery.

It is also an electorate that remains cloistered in racial silos. About 62% of black voters intend supporting the ANC, 19% the EFF and only 7% the DA. The DA found support among 69% of whites, 69% of Coloureds, and 60% of Indians.

The ANC was supported by 11% of Coloureds and 13% of Indians, and 5% and 0% respectively supported the EFF.

Despite 25 years of democracy, it seems that minds remain closed and voting preferences remain dangerously tribal.

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