OPINION

ANC, DA support stable - Ipsos-Markinor

But survey finds that COPE and IFP support continues to decline

With more than a year passed since the 2009 election and with much of the national focus on soccer rather than politics during this past year, it is interesting to examine how political parties have been faring in the minds of the electorate. The recent by-elections across the country and the Democratic Alliance (DA) federal congress held in Cape Town this past weekend have suddenly thrust local politics back into the spotlight, particularly as the 2011 local government elections draw closer.

Renewed energy has been exerted into coalition talks between the DA and the Independent Democrats (ID), and on the weekend it was announced that the two parties will co-operate ahead of the 2011 local elections (details are still to be ironed out). Given these developments, it is imperative to examine where the political parties currently stand in terms of their support levels, as well as any major changes since the 2009 general election.

Ipsos Markinor conducted its latest opinion poll in May 2010 - a nationally representative study of 3 386 South Africans of 18 years and older. The sample accurately mirrors the adult South African population and has a margin of error between 0.7% and 1.67%1. Results are projected to the universe (possible voters in the country) and are representative of the prevailing opinions in the country at the time of interviewing.

"The poll shows the continued one-party dominance by the ANC as they attract a two-thirds majority, this despite a 5% drop off of support from December 2009. The results also confirm the need for opposition co-operation ahead of the 2011 local elections as smaller opposition parties like COPE and the IFP continue to lose support since the 2009 election; while the ID and the UDM still attract less than 1% of the vote," said Helen Macdonald, a political analyst at Ipsos Markinor.

Political Party Support, May 2010

If national elections were held tomorrow, which political party would you vote for?

Political Parties

Election April 2009

December 2009

May 2010

African National Congress (ANC)

65.9%

70.5%

66%

Democratic Alliance (DA)

16.6%

12%

13%

Congress of the People (COPE)

7.4%

2.2%

3.6%

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)

4.5%

1.7%

1.8%

Independent Democrats (ID)

0.9%

0.9%

0.8%

United Democratic Movement (UDM)

0.8%

0.5%

0.3%

African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP)

0.8%

0.6%

1.2%

Freedom Front Plus (FF+)

0.8%

0.5%

0.3%

United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP)

0.3%

0%

0.1%

Minority Front (MF)

0.2%

0.2%

0.1%

Pan Africanist Congress (PAC)

0.2%

0.1%

0.2%

Any other party

-

1.1%

0.8%

Don't know

-

3.4%

4.3%

Spoilt ballot

-

1%

1.8%

Refused

-

3.1%

2.9%

Not answered

-

2.0%

2.1%

None/will not vote

-

0.2%

0.7%

African National Congress (ANC) support has decreased slightly since its strong showing in an Ipsos Markinor November/December 2009 poll. The ANC currently (May 2010) sports a two-thirds majority, as 66% of eligible voters would vote for them if an election were held tomorrow. At the end of 2009, ANC support hit almost 71% - well over the two-thirds majority that they narrowly missed in the April 2009 election where they won 65.9% of the vote. Despite this slight drop off in support since the end of 2009, the ANC continues to consolidate its dominant position as the party of choice for the majority of eligible voters.

Support for the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), remains around the 12 - 13% mark (they won 16.6% of the vote in the 2009 election). Their core support between elections seems to hover at around 13%. They were able to attract nearly 17% of the vote in the 2009 election due to their excellent election campaign and the pull factor of their highly respected leader, Helen Zille. Although polling slightly less than their April 2009 electoral support, support for the DA remains stable and the party continues to do well in by-elections particularly in their Western Cape stronghold.

On the other hand, the Congress of the People (COPE) seems to have lost quite a bit of ground since their promising start prior to the April 2009 elections. Pundits felt that at the end of 2008, COPE had the potential to take advantage of the internal strife within the ANC (Mbeki vs Zuma) and win over possibly 20% of the electorate. This was not to be as COPE experienced internal leadership battles of its own and was up against formidable election campaigns fought by both the ANC and the DA. COPE only managed to win 7.42% of the April 2009 vote. Since then, internal politics has continued to rear its ugly head within the party and support has dwindled to 3.6%, according to the latest Ipsos Markinor poll (May 2010).

It seems that the once robust Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) continues to shed votes and the post-election picture does not bode well for the party. This party is currently attracting around 1.8% of the vote (May 2010). It won 4.5% of the vote in the April 2009 election. Recent by-election results (July 2010) confirm this decrease in support at a local level - the IFP saw its support drop in traditional Zulu strongholds like Nongoma and Ulundi.

By-elections are not always an accurate indicator of national trends, as they are fought on local issues and the turnout in these elections is often very poor. However, with the local government elections in 2011 not far off, it would be negligent to ignore by-election results as they may well demonstrate local trends ahead of 2011. The results of by-elections posted on the IEC website (22 July 2010) confirm the ANC's electoral dominance as the party won 19 of the 26 wards contested across the country. The DA won 4 wards and consolidated its strong position in the Western Cape; the IFP won 3 wards.

Political party support profile: among different race groups - May 2010

Political Parties

Black

White

Coloured

Indian

African National Congress (ANC)

92.4%

2.5%

3.8%

1.3%

Democratic Alliance (DA)

9.9%

51.4%

31.5%

7.2%

Congress of the People (COPE)

77.8%

11.1%

10.4%

0.7%

Parties that have more than 3% of the vote

It is interesting to note that of the top three parties (those political parties that currently attract more than 3% of eligible voters) the DA seems to attract a more racially diverse support group. The most dominant racial group of DA supporters are still whites who make up just over half (51,4%) of the support base, but coloured South Africans now make up almost third (31,5%) and black South Africans make up a tenth (9,9%). Supporters of the ANC and COPE (to a lesser degree than the ANC) are overwhelmingly black. COPE has a small percentage of white and coloured support - around 10% each.

Political party support profile: among different age groups - May 2010

Political Parties

18-24

25-34

35-49

50+

African National Congress (ANC)

24.1%

27%

27.4%

21.5%

Democratic Alliance (DA)

17%

20.7%

27.7%

34.6%

Congress of the People (COPE)

20.1%

27.1%

29.3%

23.5%

Parties that have more than 3% of the vote

Age is not often a factor in South African politics, but it is interesting to observe whether age influences political allegiances. The ANC enjoys a very even distribution of age groups amongst its supporters, while the DA seems to have slightly more support amongst older eligible voters. (The DA gets a third of its support from voters older than 50.) The ANC, therefore, seems to be accommodating all age groups - a model which they should continue going into the 2011 local elections. Local elections are not a big draw card, particularly for younger voters, and turnout can be dismal. The DA would do well, therefore, to focus on motivating younger voters ahead of 2011 if it wants to strengthen its position in local elections across the country.

Not much has changed since the April 2009 election, except for the fortunes of the IFP and COPE, which are looking rather bleak. The ANC continues to monopolise voter sentiment while the DA consolidates its position as the most effective opposition party in the current political scenario.

The proposed co-operation between the DA and the ID, and possibly other opposition parties, is very good news for the health of opposition politics in South Africa. In a pre-election poll conducted by Ipsos Markinor in February / March 2009, a large proportion of DA supporters (77%) said they were in favour of an opposition coalition and over half the support bases of COPE (59%) and the ID (54%) were also keen on the idea. Just under half (46%) of UDM supporters were in favour.

The 2011 local government elections are an excellent springboard for a newly structured opposition to take on the mighty ANC. This leaves sufficient time before the next general election in 2014 to iron out any creases in the new opposition arrangement and provide the South African public with a truly competitive election and a choice between strong parties vying for their votes.

1. This is the margin of error for the overall results of the survey as a whole.

Statement issued by Ipsos-Markinor, July 28 2010

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