VOTER BEHAVIOUR IN THE METROS
WHAT THE 2016 LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTION RESULTS MEAN
This brief is accompanied by a technical report which sets out supporting calculations for the results interpreted here.
This brief is based on analysis of the 740 wards making up the 8 metros in the 2016 local government elections. The 8 metros are Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekuruhleni in Gauteng, Ethekwini in KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Town in the Western Cape, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City in the Eastern Cape, and Mangaung in the Free State.
It should be stressed that the unit of analysis is the ward, not the individual. There are limits on what one can learn from a ward-based analysis. Some aspects of the interpretation must be treated with caution, as indicated in the technical report accompanying this brief.
The interpretation of the analysis can be summarised as follows:
1. Changes in seat allocation between the 2011 and the 2016 local government election should be understood from two points of view.
When one considers the ANC alone as a party, the loss of share of seats in all the metros was 10.7% between 2011 and 2016. When one considers the ANC along with the parties which have split from it since 1994, the loss drops to 3.5% for the group. The DA has been the beneficiary primarily of the decrease in the share of both ANC and its splinter parties, and secondarily the decrease in the share of smaller parties other than the ANC and splinters. The EFF won 8.0% of the seats in all the metros in 2016.
2. Some of the swing towards the DA between 2011 and 2016 is the result of increased differences in turnout between DA wards and ANC wards.
In Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekuruhleni, Cape Town, Ethekwini and Mangaung, the differences between the DA ward and ANC ward turnouts were higher in the 2014 national election than in both the 2011 and 2016 local government elections. In Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City, the turnout differences in the 2014 national election were lower than in the 2011 local government election.
In all metros except Mangaung, the turnout differential widened in favour of DA wards between the 2011 and 2016 local government elections. This means that part of the swing towards the DA in the 2016 local government election compared with the 2011 local government election was a consequence of changing turnout differentials. We estimate that this component of the swing towards the DA accounted for nearly 40% of the total swing to that party between 2011 and 2016.
3. An analysis of swings is better conducted at the ward level than at the metro level.
A swing analysis between the 2014 national election and the 2016 local government election can be carried out on a ward by ward basis. Its validity depends on the assumption that, as a general rule, the probability of voting in a local government election, given willingness to vote in a national election, is independent of party affiliation. This assumption is impossible to check on the basis of existing information, and swing calculations must be interpreted with caution. However, carrying out the analysis ward by ward eliminates the effect of differential turnouts within the metros.
4. Comparing pluralities in geographical areas represented by 2016 wards, there were few changes between the 2011 local government election and the 2014 national election. There were more changes between 2014 and 2016.
There were changes in the relative number of votes for the ANC and DA in 13 out of 740 wards between 2011 and 2014, 4 towards the DA and 9 towards the ANC. Between 2014 and 2016 there was a swing of 23 towards the DA and of 4 to the ANC.
5. Comparing votes in geographical areas represented by 2016 wards, there was a swing away from the ANC in 89% of them between the 2011 and 2016 local government elections, a swing towards the DA in 75% of them and a swing towards the EFF in 79% of them.
Between 2011 and 2016, there was a swing away from the ANC in 661 wards. Within wards with an ANC plurality in 2011, there was a swing towards the DA in 408 wards. Within wards with a DA plurality in 2011, there was a swing towards the DA in 149 wards. Between 2014 and 2016, there was a swing towards the EFF in 398 wards with an ANC plurality in 2014 and in 185 wards with a DA plurality in 2014.
6. In the metros as a whole, the improvement in the DA’s position dates from 2014. Relative to shares of votes in 2014, the EFF improved its position more than the DA.
Compared with the 2011`local government election, the DA lost ground slightly between 2014 national election when election results are standardised for turnout, while improving its performance substantially between 2014 and 2016. Although the absolute percentage swing towards the DA was higher than the swing towards the EFF on both the 2014 and 2016 standardisations, the swing relative to the 2014 vote share was higher for the EFF than for the DA.
7. The 2016 local government election establishes contestability in a significant number of wards, but there are limits to contestability.
Four indices of the contestability of wards can be calculated. Just over one-fifth of the wards with ANC pluralities are held with less than 60% of the vote going to the ANC, and the DA is in virtually the same position. On the other hand, the DA received less than 10% of the vote in 57% of wards with ANC pluralities. The corresponding figure for the EFF is 42%, indicating that the EFF achieved more than 10% of the vote in 58% of wards with ANC pluralities.
8. When considering the relative contributions of race and class to 2016 local government elections, race plays the greater role, with class adding small explanatory power.
When the composition of wards by race and by class (measured by a factor extracted from three variables: the employment rate among people over 25, the average years of education among people over 25, and the logarithm of median individual income) is considered, it is evident that the racial composition of wards outweighs their class composition.
When both race and class measures are included in a regression (curve fitting) analysis, class has a secondary impact on outcomes, in the expected direction in the case of the ANC and DA, and a positive impact in the case of the EFF. These results should be interpreted with caution since the socio-economic information is five years out of date, and conditions may have changed in the interim, especially in wards with a substantial change in racial composition.
9. Looking forward to the 2019 national election and the 2021 local government election, the national status of the ANC, DA and EFF and changes in the service delivery in the metros will be more important than changes in socio-economic status in wards.
Socio-economic improvement is likely to lead to an improvement in the DA’s and EFF’s performance. But the effect will be very small, partly because of the secondary role of class in determining electoral outcomes, and partly because expected growth in real per capita income will be very low.
What will matter much more will be (i) the states of the ANC, DA and EFF at the national level in the coming years and (ii) the extent to which there is an improvement or deterioration in service delivery in each metro and which party or parties get the credit or blame.
The contribution by Anele Mtwesi and Kimera Chetty towards this analysis is gratefully acknowledged.
Charles Simkins is Head of Research at the Helen Suzman Foundation.
This article first appeared as an HSF Brief.