THE 2016 local government elections are now just more than a year away. Along with a wide range of local municipalities, four big metros will prove to be the primary battlegrounds for the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
They are: Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, and Nelson Mandela Bay. As 2015 will be used as the platform from which each party will launch a more official campaign in 2016, it is worth looking at the state of play in these four areas, to see what exactly is up for grabs.
In local elections, each voter in a metro gets two votes: one to elect a ward councillor to the metropolitan council and one to elect a party to the metropolitan council (the proportional representation or PR ballot). Thus the PR ballot is a helpful illustration of party support at metro level and I have used those numbers, drawn from the IEC website.
This does not mean the numbers are definitive. The final percentage in a local government election is a combination of PR and ward ballots, and one could use those too. The PR vote is just a helpful illustrator of party support from which one can deduce some general trends, which is the purpose here.
In the 2011 local government elections the ANC managed 59.3% (or 646,328 votes) and the DA 34.4% (374,505 votes) in Johannesburg. The EFF did not exist at the time. That would suggest a significant gap between the two. However, although it is generally not a good idea to compare local and national elections (because the turnout differs so fundamentally) the 2014 elections are worth looking at too. Here, the provincial ballot is most helpful, because it better represents people’s local interests. You can break that vote down by metro.
By that measure, the ANC managed 52.3% (821,109), the DA 32.4% (508,362) and the EFF 10.1% (159,105) in Johannesburg, in 2014.
What is significant here is the ANC’s decline in percentage support, despite an increase in votes in absolute terms. This bucks a trend. Usually, the ANC’s percentage of the vote increases in national elections because the turnout is higher.
Because the DA stayed at roughly the same level, the EFF would seem to have made the biggest impact on the ANC’s share, in relative terms. In other words, it was the real difference between the ANC growing and shrinking.
Thus the performance of the EFF in Johannesburg is going to be crucial.
It is highly unlikely the DA will gain a majority, although it can expect its percentage to rise, but the EFF will probably also benefit from the lower turnout and it can expect to grow too. If not, it will be deeply disappointed. The degree to which it can take more support off the ANC will be a crucial factor. Together with the DA these two parties have the opportunity to take the ANC below 50%.
As turnout will be so crucial, it is worth noting the huge difference in turnout in Johannesburg between 2014 (when it was 72.6%) and 2011 (54.9%). This will be of great concern to the ANC.
In the 2011 local government elections, the ANC managed 56.5% (408 413) and the DA 38.7% (280 288) in Tshwane. Notice the gap between ANC and DA in terms of absolute votes is much smaller – about 128 000 votes, compared with Johannesburg’s 272 000 gap. Therefore, because this metro is smaller each vote has a bigger influence on the final percentage.
Again, if one looks at the 2014 provincial ballot the influence of the EFF on the ANC’s results is profound.
In those elections the ANC secured 49.3% (517,741), the DA 33.8% (354,403) and the EFF 11.2% (120,849) in Tshwane. The obvious problem for the ANC is its percentage of vote dropping below 50%, despite a higher turnout. Again bucking the usual trend. This metro is on the table in a very real way.
The two turnouts were: 72.7% in 2014 and 55.3% in 2011.
It is worth noting that the gap between the DA’s support in Johannesburg in the two elections was just 2%, but in Tshwane it was 5% in favour of the national elections. This suggests the DA is going to have to fight harder to increase its support in Tshwane than it will in Johannesburg come 2016.
It is going to be fascinating to see how the EFF does in a local government election, as well as the effect of the differing turnout levels on its support. Are its supporters the type of people who can be motivated to turn out in relatively large numbers even when the stakes are ostensibly lower? The ANC’s voters are relatively apathetic when it comes to local elections, by way of contrast. Likewise, you can be sure the DA is going to pour everything into getting every last one of its supporters to make their mark.
In the 2011 local government elections the ANC managed 62.2% (490,234) and the DA 30.1% (237,605) in Ekuhurleni.
The ANC has its biggest buffer between its 2014 support and the 50% threshold in this metro.
In 2014 the ANC managed 55.1% (622,192), the DA 29.1% (328,143) and the EFF 10.6% (119,919) in Ekuhurleni. So, although the pattern is the same, and while the ANC’s support again dropped, it stabilised at 55% (compared with 52.3% in Johannesburg and 49.3% in Tshwane). This would suggest it has a slightly bigger margin for error or loss than it does in the other two.
The two turnouts in this metro were: 73.8% in 2014 and 56.3% in 2011.
Nelson Mandela Bay
This is the metro the DA fares best in and the ANC worst, and it is remarkable for a number of reasons.
The 2011 local government elections saw the ANC secure 52.1% (189,867) and the DA 40.2% (146,559). So, unlike the other three, the ANC was already dangerously close to the 50% threshold. In 2014, it dropped below it.
In the 2014 elections, the ANC secured 48.8% (212,862), the DA 40.8% (177,952) and the EFF 4.2% (18,077).
The EFF’s influence in this metro, although still critical to the final result because the margins are so small, would appear to be at its weakest out of the four.
What is remarkable about the DA’s performance in Nelson Mandela Bay metro is that it actually beat its 2011 accomplishment in 2014, something it did not achieve in any of the other three, and given the influence of turnout, this is telling indeed.
The ANC’s support in absolute terms between the two elections grew just 23,000 votes. The DA’s grew about 31,000. That suggests that, while the EFF will take some support off the ANC, the DA is also able to grow here by eating into the ANC’s support. It is less evident in the other four metros, and will be critical for both parties.
Just as significantly, the gap between the two main parties in terms of absolute votes was about 43,000 in 2011; in 2014 it actually shrunk to a difference of about 35,000 votes in favour of the DA.
Again, this is the only metro of the four where this happened. In Johannesburg it grew by nearly 41,000 votes, in Tshwane 35,000 votes and in Ekuhurleni 46,000 votes; in each case, in favour of the ANC.
From all of this it is clear the following factors will be crucial in the run-up to 2016:
Apathy of ANC voters: The ANC cannot rely on the big turnout a national election generates. More than any other party its voters show the least interest in local government elections. It is going to have to overcome a mighty hurdle if it wants to stop its decline in these four metros and produce something spectacular to keep its percentage above 50% in Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane. Actually growing in these four metros seems incredibly difficult.
Enthusiasm of DA and EFF supporters: The flip side is how much enthusiasm the DA and EFF can muster among their respective supporters. The nature of the competition alone will help them greatly; nothing motivates people more to vote than the prospect of winning. The ANC, which prides itself on being a monolithic behemoth that does nothing but win, has a real credibility problem on this front in these four metros.
The EFF: How will the EFF perform in local government elections? That is a great unknown. Many of its voters are protest voters, angry and disillusioned with the ANC. Will that carry over to the local government elections?
One consequence of anger is apathy. If voters feel they are not getting value for the vote they made in 2014 they could well stay away. The EFF is going to have to demonstrate over the next year that its voters are getting bang for their buck.
At the end of the day, the ultimate problem will be if there are hung councils and what each party’s attitude is to coalitions, which appear to be a very real outcome.
Ahead of the next elections each party will have to clear up its policy on coalitions, because voters have a right to know what potential coalitions they are voting for, as much as they do for their party’s values, principles and policies.