The 2019 elections: socio-economic performance and voter preferences

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In May 2019 South Africa held its sixth democratic elections which was one of the country’s most contested elections. Results of the second wave of our study on socio-economic rights and voter preferences was released just before the elections.

The study is part of a three-year study to determine what factors drive voting behavior and in particular, whether social grant receipt influences voter preferences.  The study consisted of a nationally representative sample of 3431 respondents.

We found that the reasons for party choice were that voters believed that the party would bring better life (65%); that the party would bring freedom and democracy to the country (62%) and that they trusted the party that they intended to vote for (62%).

Socio-economic well-being featured strongly in people’s reasons for party choice. Grant receipt was not a major driver of voting behavior, but respondents who feared loss of their social grants if another party came to power, were more likely to vote for the incumbent party. The statistical modeling predicted that trust in the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa was the most significant factor in voter preference in the 2019 elections. There seemed to renewed support for the governing party compared to wave 1 during the Presidency of Jacob Zuma when the party lost significant support.  Support for the Presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa climbed 29 percentage points after he succeed Jacob Zuma. Lastly, those who thought that corruption increased in the past year were more likely to support an opposition party.

In summary then, there is some evidence that new political constituencies are emerging due to welfare state expansion, but this is not as large as one might expect. Other factors matter too such as trust in political leaders to deliver socio-economic rights, party loyalty and historical legacies continue to hold sway at particular moments. There is some evidence that low and middle-income voters make strategic and rational choices that they perceive to be important in securing a better life.

Looking ahead, it is evident that disappointment about service delivery by the Ramaphosa government might shift politics of the future and could shape the future prospects for social welfare.  The final wave of data will be collected in October – November 2019.

Read the full report here or read news articles on the research here.