President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: GCIS

In a market where there is a famine of political research but a feast of learned opinions, the latest opinion poll by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) is welcome.

While opinion polls around the globe have gotten some big things famously wrong before, the IRR poll is transparent in its methodology and pragmatic in its modelling.

While polls are the most valuable to political parties as they help to effectively direct their messaging, this poll also raises some interesting points of political debate for voters in general.

The snap poll results showed the ANC at 56%, the DA on 18% and the EFF on 11%. When modelled according to various turnout scenarios, on a 69% turnout — which is considered likely compared with previous elections — the ANC moves to 59%, the DA to 22% and the movement in the EFF’s support is negligible.

Gauteng is the only province where a coalition could be in the offing with the ANC on 48%, the DA on 25% and the EFF on 12%. When the likely turnout is factored in (the data allows for a 73% turnout to be modelled), the ANC just makes it to 50%, the DA rises to 27% and the EFF drops to 10%.

As the pollsters themselves caution, much can happen before the election takes place and the overall analysis on the basis of other questions asked indicates that while formerly alienated voters are moving back to the ANC, they are still to some extent available to other parties. The contest over this group will make this election one where what happens during the campaign and how parties play their hand will matter a lot. Blunders will be punished.

The first point for political debate is the discussion over the significance of the size of the ANC’s mandate. An argument between the DA and various commentators has been raging, with the DA arguing against the contention that the ANC needs a large slice of the vote to strengthen the hand of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who will then be more able to carry out important economic reforms.

Some of the proponents of the vote-for-Cyril argument also argue that SA is not stable enough for coalition politics, so it is important to ensure a strong ANC victory.

What this survey indicates is that the issue, at a national level, will not be about the likelihood of coalitions. Voters, therefore, can weigh up their preference for voting for Ramaphosa’s reform agenda against the importance of a strong opposition.

Although the two main opposition parties have done more to damage their own causes lately than anything their opponents could have done to harm them, both the DA and the EFF have played a vital role in building the pressure to remove Jacob Zuma from power and hold the ANC to account. A strong opposition will be no less important in the next five years as it has been in the past 25.

In Gauteng, though, things are different. The survey at this point shows the election outcome to be on a knife edge. Should the ANC come in just under 50%, it will need a coalition partner with the most likely candidate being its off-shoot, the EFF.

Much turns on this result. Should the ANC choose to side with the EFF, we could see the unravelling of the EFF support for DA-run metropolitan councils. We could also see the EFF moving into executive positions in Gauteng and in the metros as it has said it intends to do. Given the EFF’s reckless stance on the economy and its populist posture, this is not an outcome that will be good for business and investment.

If voters and other opposition parties do not want to see such an outcome, it is critical that they position themselves as potential partners to the ANC to widen its choice of partners, should that moment arrive.