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Picture: Gallo Images
Picture: Gallo Images

The FM recently ran a piece about the shape of the political landscape leading up to the 2024 general election (Features, October 19-25). The article was based on the following premise: “There seems to be a discernible shift away from parties at the centre of the political spectrum, such as the ANC and the DA, judging from the results of the most recent national, provincial and local polls, and subsequent by-elections.”

But a week is a long time in politics, as the saying goes.

In my comment on that story, I made it clear that while ANC support is plummeting, “we are seeing the exact opposite [when it comes to the DA]. While there was some fragmentation in the 2019 election and to a lesser degree in the 2021 election, the trend is now moving in the opposite direction.”

I cited as evidence data — not opinion, but data — that over the past 15 ward by-elections, DA support has grown substantially compared with the results obtained in those same wards in the 2021 election.

In the subsequent weeks we have seen both polls and Poles confirming how South African politics is consolidating at the rational centre, with the DA emerging as the anchor point.

Let’s start with the polls.

Shortly after the FM’s article appeared, the Brenthurst Foundation published the results of a nationally representative survey conducted among 1,500 registered voters, which featured a 3% margin of error. It showed that, far from fragmenting, DA support is consolidating at a rapid rate. Brenthurst’s various turnout scenarios measured DA support at between 25% and 27%, up from 20% in 2019. In contrast, ANC support stood at 43%-45%, down from 58% in 2019.

More importantly, this data — not opinion, but data — showed that for the first time, most voters favour the DA over the ANC. A majority of respondents — 37% — were “strongly” or “somewhat” favourable towards the DA, compared with 36% for the ANC. Since Brenthurst’s previous survey, conducted in October 2022, the DA’s favourability score grew from 30% to 37%, while the ANC’s declined from 39% to 36%.

The message is unambiguous: the DA is now the party viewed most favourably by a majority of voters. And its favourability continues to rise as the ANC’s declines.

This same pattern played out in another reputable poll, by the Social Research Foundation (SRF). That organisation polled 1,412 registered voters in a sample that was both geographically and demographically representative, reporting a 4% margin of error.

The SRF data — not opinion, but data — confirmed the trend of ANC decline coupled with consolidation around the DA. In a scenario featuring high turnout of 66%, the SRF measured ANC support at 45%, with the DA surging to 31%. On turnout of 56%, the ANC improved marginally to 46%, while the DA remained rock solid at 31%.

In keeping with the Brenthurst data, the SRF found that DA national support grew from 25% in July 2022 and March 2023, to 31% in October 2023. Over the same period, the ANC’s dropped from 52% to 45%.

So, what’s the bottom line?

First, the ANC is in deep trouble. It is down at least 12 percentage points since 2019, stuck between 43% and 46%.

Second, the DA is growing strongly. Depending on different turnout scenarios, DA national support is now between 25% and 31%, compared with 20% in 2019.

Third, DA favourability and growth continue to accelerate — at the expense of the ANC.

This final point is the most encouraging. The numbers suggest that, increasingly, ANC voters are not only abandoning the governing party, but a substantial share are actively switching to the DA. Why? Because the DA’s growing track record of good governance is making former ANC voters view the party in an increasingly favourable light.

South African politics is morphing into a two-horse race between a declining ANC and a resurgent DA

Unseating the ANC

To understand the implications of this shift away from the ANC towards the DA, let’s turn to the Poles.

A few weeks ago, Poland achieved a historic election outcome. In a sweeping upset, a pre-election pact of opposition parties defeated the powerful governing party, popularly known as PiS. Tellingly, even though PiS would remain the single biggest party in parliament, the opposition pact managed to grow its combined support to more than 50%. As a result, it has formed a governing coalition, relegating PiS to the opposition benches.

This is exactly the game plan of the multiparty charter for South Africa. In August, eight opposition parties, including the DA, signed the charter on the basis that, while each would run on its own ticket, we undertake to combine our collective vote shares in the 2024 election to remove the ANC from power. This is a carbon copy of the playbook that succeeded in Poland.

The Poles have just proved that it can be done. This is confirmed by all credible polls, which show that the DA has emerged as the anchor point around which a new political centre is forming.

Rather than fragmenting, South African politics is morphing into a two-horse race between a declining ANC and a resurgent DA. The outcome of this race will determine which of these two parties end up as the anchor of a coalition government that will shape South Africa’s future beyond 2024.

* Steenhuisen is leader of the DA

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