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It is widely believed in political circles that the EFF and the DA are hoping — praying almost — for a victory by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma over Cyril Ramaphosa in the ANC’s presidential election race, and polls of various descriptions appear to back up their belief that it will be easier to win votes from traditional ANC supporters were Dlamini-Zuma to emerge victorious. How seriously should ANC delegates to the Johannesburg conference, which begins this weekend, take these polls? Should they be a factor in their decision over who should lead the party?

The short answer is, definitely. Polls, particularly political ones, have a poor reputation in SA. They are expensive to conduct, so sample sizes tend to be very small. They are usually conducted over the phone, which is often less accurate than person-to-person interviews. They also tend to focus on urban dwellers in a society that has a significant rural population. Additionally, political choices can be dangerous in SA, so the...

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