Strange bedfellows

A Tale of Three Cities it’s been dubbed, and a tale it is indeed.

The Ipsos poll of voter intentions in the Tshwane, Gauteng and Nelson Mandela Bay metros makes for fascinating reading, because it shows quite clearly just how dramatic has been the drop in support for the ANC.

Released weekly, the poll poses a question – “Which party will you vote for?” – to a random sample of 1 500 people drawn from a panel of 2 500 people in each metro.

The poll will be conducted for the last time tomorrow (Thursday July 28), but it’s highly unlikely that the trends which have emerged will shift dramatically before the poll on Wednesday August 3.

In Tshwane, the DA leads with 40%, a massive 17% ahead of the ANC (23%) in the race. In Nelson Mandela Bay, the DA (42%) has a smaller lead of 14% over the ANC (28%), In Johannesburg, the race is much closer, probably too close to call, with only 5% separating the DA (36%) from the ANC (31%).

In none of the races can either major party form a majority government, and that means a coalition is likely in each, but who will climb into bed with whom?

The EFF is the only other party likely to poll sufficient votes to be kingmaker in one or more race: Tshwane 13%, Johannesburg 9% and Nelson Mandela Bay 6%, but in none of the three metros, with the projected polls, is a majority coalition government possible, so it is the “Don’t know/undecided”, or swing vote – 14% in Tshwane and Johannesburg, 16% in Nelson Mandela Bay – which will determine what is likely to happen.

Even if all of the swing voters in each metro were to vote for the ANC – highly unlikely – in none of the metros will it have a clear majority, whereas if those votes go to the DA – as unlikely – a majority in each metro is just theoretically possible.

If neither party is able to poll sufficient votes to form a coalition government with a minority partner in the form of the EFF (it’s worth noting that the ANC is on record that it will never partner with the EFF), then it leaves one of two possibilities: the DA and the ANC climbing into bed together, or the party with the biggest poll result forming a minority government.

The former will require much horse trading and compromise from both coalition partners, the latter – because of the non-existent level of inter-party trust in our politics – will result in a hamstrung government.

An oft-asked question is whether the August 3 poll will be an indication of what will happen in 2019. The polls – and the actual vote – are conducted in the metro catchment areas, which represents a demographic dramatically different to that of the traditional rural support base of the ANC.

The trend in the decline of support for the ANC and increase in support for the DA in these three metros is unlikely to translate directly into the rural areas, and concomitant losses at provincial level or national level for the ANC. (I’m on record stating that the DA will reach its zenith in the August 3 poll.)

Either way, this is a watershed election, with the ruling party literally on the ropes. If it takes a beating in one or more of the Three Cities, it will either rise to the challenge (and as Jackson Mthembu admitted recently, it needs to do) get its house in order, or continue its downward spiral, and we will all lose.