South Africa’s next election will take place in 2019 when we will go to the polls to elect a new Parliament and new Provincial Governments. Given the 2016 election result, Gauteng is very likely to be the most interesting and contested provincial election.
Three years is an eon in politics – so a lot can change between now and 2019. But for now, we can start to assess possible outcomes in Gauteng by analysing turnout and voting patterns for the last two elections. The results of this analysis are described below. The bottom line is that Gauteng is looking like a very, very close election in 2019.
The Gauteng Electorate
Gauteng has roughly 6.2 million voters. Using previous voting patterns, those voters can be divided into five distinct blocs. I’ve categorised the five voting blocs as follows:
1) Solid ANC (areas where the ANC receives more than 70% of the vote)
2) Lean ANC (areas where the ANC receives 50-70% of the vote)
3) Marginal (areas where a party wins with less than 50% of the vote)
4) Lean DA (areas where the DA receives 50-70% of the vote)
5) Solid DA (areas where the DA receives more than 70% of the vote)
The relative sizes of each of these blocs in Gauteng are as follows:
The ANC clearly has a big advantage given the relative size of its base in Gauteng. But for the last three elections, the DA has been very successful at turning out a disproportionately high percentage of its base on election day – inflating the ‘Solid DA’ areas’ contribution to the overall pool of votes and deflating the ‘Solid ANC’ areas’ contribution to the overall pool of votes. Any realistic coalition government scenario in 2019 will require disproportionately high DA base turnout.
Turnout will be critical to the outcome in 2019. Here is a breakdown of the turnout permutation for 2014 and 2016 across the five voting blocs in Gauteng:
There are two important observations to be made about turnout: Firstly, people in DA-dominant areas turned out more heavily in both 2014 and 2016 than those in ANC-dominant areas. But secondly, the DA’s turnout advantage was historically large in 2016. This played an important role in driving up the DA’s overall % of the vote in Gauteng and its metros in 2016.
The first important question for 2019 thus revolves around turnout. Who will actually turn out and vote on election day 2019? The safest assumption for now is that 2019 turnout will look like 2014 turnout, since turnout is most likely to look like the previous national government election. Once we get closer to the election, we can make more informed assumptions.
It’s important to note that the DA’s turnout advantage was historically large in 2016. Turnout is highly likely not to be as favourable to the DA in 2019. This is the single biggest reason to conclude that 2019 will be much more challenging for the DA. If a larger proportion of voters in Solid ANC and Lean ANC areas turn out (as they usually do in national government elections), the DA needs to syphon off a growing percentage of votes in those areas just to perform at the 2016 level.
Expected Voting Pattern
Projecting a potential voting pattern three years in advance is obviously highly speculative. Any number of developments could occur that upends expectations. I will expand on this in the final section.
But for now, we must ask ourselves what the most likely outcome is in Gauteng 2019, given what we know now. What we know, for now, is what the voting pattern was in each of these voting blocs across Gauteng in 2016. Here are the numbers:
*The movements indicated in brackets are based on comparisons with 2014 provincial government election.
Clearly, the ANC experienced losses in each of the blocs, with the DA and EFF absorbing most of those losses in each case. The DA achieved the most significant growth across all areas.
The best assumption for now is that the 2019 voting pattern across these blocs will look like the voting pattern across these blocs in 2016, given that it is the most recent and robust data point we have at our disposal. As new political events unfold, we could start speculating on how this voting pattern may change in 2019 (more on that below).
As a technical note, and in my opinion, voting patterns can be and should be compared across local government elections and provincial government elections. The difference in outcomes between these elections are primarily attributable to changing turnout patterns; and not on changes in voting preferences. Voters who preferred the DA on the local government election PR ballot are likely to also prefer the DA on the Gauteng Provincial ballot and vice versa.
An early Gauteng projection
Given the assumptions described above – a turnout pattern similar to 2014 and a voting pattern similar to 2016 – we can produce a first projection for Gauteng 2019. Inputting those variables in the model produces the following outcome:
At this early stage, the exact percentages are not particularly important. The general ballpark for the figures is important. If the status quo holds, the ANC is clearly facing the very real risk of being pushed to below 50% in Gauteng – even in a general election turnout scenario. In my estimation, with the information at our disposal now, the ANC is more likely than not to be pushed to below 50% in Gauteng in 2019.
It is striking though that the DA is still a very far way off from actually winning or getting close to the ANC in Gauteng. The DA will need significantly higher proportions of the vote in Gauteng’s townships to get anywhere close to the ANC in 2019.
The DA achieved 9.6% of the vote in ‘Solid ANC’ and ‘Lean ANC’ areas in 2016. The model indicates that in order to break even with the ANC (with both parties in the low 40s), the DA would need about 20% of the vote in those areas in 2019. The DA therefore needs to double its vote in ANC areas by 2019 to break even with the ANC. A very difficult – but not impossible – task.
The next three years
The projection above assumes that everything will stay the same. I like to think of it as the ‘status quo’ result. But things obviously won’t stay the same. We are likely to see significant political developments in the next three years that will impact the 2019 result and alter the projection. Some of these developments will be surprises – unanticipated developments that are not likely to be predicted.
But some of these developments can be anticipated. The following will be important factors that will influence the 2019 result:
1) DA governance in Johannesburg and Tshwane. Time will tell whether the DA is able to govern well, achieve ground-level impact and manage perceptions about its governance in these two metros. This is probably the single most important variable for 2019. If the DA performs very well, it could be transformational for the party.
2) The ANC’s succession process. A lot has been written on this topic. Suffice to say that the ANC’s decisions – and the manner in which those decisions are taken – at the party’s 2017 elective conference will be critical to the election in 2019.
3) The outcome of the DA/EFF ‘semi-coalition’. It will be interesting to see how the DA and EFF’s brands are affected by the parties’ cooperation. There may be significant upside potential here for the DA. Given the simulated outcome above, the DA and EFF’s ability to cooperate in negotiations after the 2019 elections will also be critical.
4) Possible party realignment. It seems plausible that some of the parties who contested the 2016 election could merge or cooperate more formally with some of the larger parties.
5) Turnout in 2019. Turnout is likely to look similar to 2014, but there is a possibility that suburban turnout could be extremely high. It will be interesting to see if the 2016 outcome has a lasting psychological impact on the DA base. They think they can win now, which may boost turnout in the Solid DA and Lean DA blocs to beyond 2014 levels.
6) The registration campaign in 2019. This is an often-overlooked aspect of our elections, but it is critical to the final outcome. In 2019 there will most likely again be two registration weekends. Those weekends could alter the make-up of the electorate for 2019 to the benefit of either the DA or ANC. In 2016, the DA was able to massively out-perform the ANC in registering new voters in its strong areas. It will be interesting to see if the pattern repeats itself.
Based on what we know now, Gauteng 2019 is shaping up as a very close election, with the ANC at significant risk of losing the province. But 2019 may see more fluidity than ever before given the DA’s significant new presence in government in Gauteng and the inevitable changes in the ANC’s leadership by 2019.
holds an MBA from UCT and is currently studying towards a Master’s
Degree in advanced management at Yale University. He is a former DA