For many South Africans struggling with the consequences of poor government decisions in recent years, it should come as no surprise that support for the ruling party has recently dipped well below 50%.

Senior political analyst Louw Nel detailed how research firm Ipsos recently conducted separate polls showing that support for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is steadily declining.

One poll puts the ANC’s current support at a paltry 42% and another at 38%. It’s not all good news for the opposition parties, however, as another closer look at the polls shows that the ANC’s loss is not necessarily an opposition gain.

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The survey assessed the preferences of potential voters if the election were held now, and found that only 42% of respondents would choose the ruling party.

But it also appears that support for the main opposition parties was just as low, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) polling 11% and 9% respectively, with ActionSA the highest at 3%. popular among smaller parties.

A significant 10% of respondents said they would not vote at all, 7% declined to answer, and another 5% said they did not know.

Nel said the Ipsos poll showed 40% of respondents found “no political party represents my views” – an indictment of the options on offer and a sign that votes lost by the ANC do not necessarily translate into votes gained by the opposition. “Indeed, President Cyril Ramaphosa remains the most popular political party leader in the country – 5.5 out of 10 – with EFF leader Julius Malema at 3.8 and DA leader John Steenhuizen at 3.3. Mr Ramaphosa’s approval rating among ANC supporters (68%) exceeds his approval rating among all voters (48%), but the gap is much wider for Mr Steenhuizen, who enjoys support from the party faithful (67%) but performs poorly among of all voters (29%),” he said.

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He added that Ramaphosa’s numbers still represent a marked decline for the president, whose approval ratings consistently exceed those of the party he leads.

“Respondents rated the ANC unfavorably, saying they were unsure about the state of the party and/or who was really in charge. Mr Ramaphosa’s leadership style has been criticized and many felt he was not formidable enough,” he said.

Ipsos has a history of overestimating ANC support and underestimating DA support. This is due in part to the former’s struggle to attract traditional voters and the latter’s comparative success in getting prospective voters to register and show up on Election Day.

It’s worth noting that after adding in undecided voters, both parties are likely to gain a few percentage points in their projected support. However, it is increasingly certain that the ANC’s share of the vote will fall below 50% in 2024 – something that has never happened in a national election before (but this threshold was crossed in the 2021 local government elections, when the party gained only 45.6% of votes). total number of votes).

The ANC has historically done better in general elections than in local elections, but faces the real prospect of losing its majority in 2024.

But what about the alternatives? Polling data suggests that an ANC loss is not necessarily a gain for the DA or the EFF, meaning that opposition parties – big and small – will have to come together to oust the ANC from government. This happened in Gauteng Metro in 2021, and despite huge ideological differences between the parties, coalitions in Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg and Tshwane are still going strong.

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“Indeed, opposition parties announced in July that the ANC government in Nelson Mandela Bay would soon be ousted, and the ANC-led coalition in eThekwini looks shaky. Survey data never tells the whole story and should be taken with a grain of salt. By-election results are the best indicator of voter behavior and recent by-elections have produced some encouraging results for the ANC in traditional strongholds. But it cannot be denied that support for the ANC is declining and sentiment is changing,” Nel concluded.

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