Former president Jacob Zuma.
Former president Jacob Zuma.

The ANC is on course to secure barely more than half of the vote in 2019’s national elections, its worst result, a survey commissioned by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) showed.

About 52% of 978 registered voters interviewed between August 22 and September 4 said they would support the ANC, while 23% backed the DA and 13% the EFF, according to the poll, which was done by Victory Research on behalf of the Johannesburg-based research institute. The survey had a margin of error of 3%.

Should the poll prove an accurate barometer of voter preferences, it would indicate that the ANC has yet to recover from former president Jacob Zuma’s scandal-marred rule, during which its share of the ballot fell to 54% in a 2016 municipal vote, from 62% in national elections two years before.

The governing party forced Zuma to step down in February and named Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed him.

The survey showed that the EFF, which won 8% of the vote in 2016, has won over many disenchanted ANC supporters with its push to force the governing party to adopt populist policies, such as expropriating land without compensation, said Gareth van Onselen, the IRR’s head of politics and governance and a former DA employee.

"Alienated black ANC voters have responded to the EFF’s ability to dominate ANC policy and, already favourable to the EFF, chosen to align with it rather than the ANC," he said.

"It means that the ANC’s strategic decision to nullify the EFF by attempting to pander to and adopt its policies has backfired dramatically."

Ramaphosa said in an address in New York on Monday that the country would hold national elections before the end of May 2019, and he expects the ANC to regain lost ground.

The IRR survey’s other findings include:

Support for the EFF is fragile and a low voter turnout could see it lose out to the DA;

No party is on course to win an outright majority in Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria;

A lack of jobs, drug abuse and crime were seen by respondents as the three most pressing issues the government needed to tackle; and

Tackling land reform was considered the lowest of 13 possible priorities suggested by the institute, despite the issue having dominated public discourse over recent months.