One Third of South African Voters Still Undecided, Poll Finds

(Bloomberg) -- Almost a third of likely South African voters canvassed in a new opinion poll said they hadn’t decided who to support in next week’s elections or refused to disclose a preference, creating uncertainty over the expected outcome.

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While a series of previous surveys indicate that the ruling African National Congress will lose its majority for the first time since taking power in 1994, they largely omitted undecided respondents. That means the predictions could be unreliable, Afrobarometer, a well known pan-African survey group, said Wednesday after conducting its own telephonic poll of 1,800 South Africans.

“We do not know how undecided voters will ‘break,’ so we cannot predict the final election outcome,” Afrobarometer said in commentary on the survey, which was commissioned by the Cape Town-based Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. “Many voters can still be swayed in the last week prior to the election.”

The May 29 contest is expected to be South Africa’s tightest in the democratic era. The ANC, which won 57.5% of the national vote in 2019, is almost certain to remain the biggest party, but may be forced into a coalition government to retain power — and if that happens its level of support will determine who it partners with and whether it will have to adjust economic policy.

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Some 86% of those interviewed by Afrobarometer between April 23 and May 11 said they were registered to vote and 88% of those said they were likely to cast ballots. A quarter said they were yet to decide who to vote for, while 6% declined to answer the question.

The ANC would win 39% of the vote if those who didn’t disclose a preference were excluded, and the main opposition Democratic Alliance 19%, the survey company said. The populist Economic Freedom Fighters would get 10%, as would the uMkhonto weSizwe Party, or MKP, a new party led by former President Jacob Zuma. The poll, which had a 2.3% margin of error, didn’t spell out what share of the cast votes parties were expected to win.

The findings, among the last likely to be released before the election, are broadly in line with those from a survey released this week that was commissioned by broadcaster eNCA and undertaken by MarkData. It gave the ANC 43.4% of the vote.

While a Social Research Foundation survey in April gave the ANC just 37% support, its daily tracking poll now puts the party’s support at between 42.9% and 44.2%, depending on turnout. Political analysts have queried the methodology of many of the surveys.

The rand has gained 5.4% against the dollar over the past month, the most of 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg, partially on expectations that the ANC will win sufficient votes to form an alliance with small parties that won’t insist on major changes to economic policy. If its support drops to below about 45%, it may be forced to work with bigger parties. An alliance with the EFF or MKP may dent investor confidence, while a tie-up with the business-friendly DA could bolster sentiment.

The Afrobarometer survey’s other findings include:

  • 47% of respondents said they don’t feel close to any political party, meaning that their preference could change.

  • 85% feel the country is going in the wrong direction, a sharp increase from a 2018 survey that put the figure at 68%.

  • Unemployment, in a country where a third of the working age population is jobless, was the biggest concern.

  • Power outages and corruption were also identified as major problems.

(Updates tracking poll in eighth paragraph)

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