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Friday, 17 May 2019 12:08

A question of political legitimacy: only 47% voted

Written by 
Citizen Surveys

The public are now well aware that the recent 8th May national election received the lowest voter turnout since South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, with only a 66% turnout. Citizen Surveys, the leading South African marketing and social research consultancy specialising in national research studies, had estimated the lowest voter turnout scenario at 63%.

This release unpacks and answers the below three important questions demanding answers following the poor voter turnout: 1. How legitimate is the South African democracy if so many people did not vote? 2. Do the voting age population (aged 18 and older) believe that political parties will keep the promises made during election campaigning? 3. What role did unmotivated youth play in this low voter turnout? How legitimate is the South African democracy if so many people did not cast their ballots?

The Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) reported the voting age population at 35.9-million adults. The 2018 mid-year population estimates from StatsSA, however, estimate that there are about 37.8-million adult South Africans (aged 18 and older). Of this, approximately four in ten live in townships and three in ten live in the rural areas.

Reza Omar, Strategic Research Director at Citizen Surveys, says, “Just under 17.7-million votes were cast in the election, indicating that an approximate 18.2-million South African adults abstained from the election altogether. Of these adults, just over 9.1-million didn’t register to vote and just over 9.1-million of the registered voters did not turn up at the polls. In short, only about half of adults voted in the election. I believe this level of abstention brings the legitimacy of our democracy into question.”

The election results indicate that:

● The ANC garnered just over 10-million votes. This represents 28% of the adult population of South Africa.

● The DA garnered just over 3.6-million votes. This represents 10% of the adult population of South Africa.

● The EFF garnered just under 1.9-million votes, which represents 5% of the adult population.

Could it be a lack of trust in the political parties that contributed to the abstention? During the course of electioneering, each political party made promises to the South African public that they would address the most important problems facing the country. According to Citizen Survey’s South African Citizens Survey (SACS), 73% of South Africans believe that unemployment is the most pressing problem, followed by crime at 34%, corruption at 25%, and poverty and destitution at 23%. The latest SACS asked South African adults whether, in their opinion, political parties kept their promises.

The results indicated that only 34% of adults believe that the ANC keeps its promises, followed by 25% and 20% who believe the DA and EFF, respectively, keep their promises to the South African people. What role did unmotivated youth play in this low voter turnout? A prominent theme echoed across all the political parties was their repetitive calls for young voters to participate. Approximately one-third (11.7-million) of adult South Africans are aged 18 to 29 years old, and are thus defined as youth.

An April analysis of SACS revealed that only approximately 48% (5.6-million) youth were on the voters roll prior to the election. In the build-up to elections, approximately 56% of youth were motivated to vote whereas a whopping 44% were not motivated to participate at all, which is unsurprising when looking at actual voter turnout. The data shows that approximately 31% of youth (1.7-million) were registered yet unmotivated and therefore unlikely to go to the polls to vote.

When seeking clarity on why these registered voters where not motivated and therefore unlikely to participate in the election, the data indicated that

● 63% are unemployed

● 64% believe that the economy will not improve over the next 12 months

● 87% believe that corruption is increasing

“In short, South Africans and the youth in particular are saying that the time for political parties making promises is coming to an end - South Africans now want action, and tangible results.

This will be one of the key factors that may assist in re-establishing the legitimacy of the South African democracy,” concludes Omar.

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