MALAIKA MAHLATSI | Undecided voters could sway election results

Those unsure who to vote for play vital role this voting season

A woman casts her vote during the special voting day at Moses Kotane Primary School in Braamfischerville, Soweto.
A woman casts her vote during the special voting day at Moses Kotane Primary School in Braamfischerville, Soweto.

Towards elections, surveys are conducted to determine the possible outcome. Many of these surveys focus on the opinions of those who have already made a decision on who they will be voting for.

While such surveys provide important insight into the sentiments of voters and measure the popularity of political parties that are contesting, they do not tell a complete story.

This is particularly true for today’s national, provincial election which has some commonalities with previous elections, but also has one very important distinction that has not been considered in the majority of surveys that have been conducted. That distinction is that there is a significant number of registered voters who remain undecided about who they will be casting their votes for.

According to a study conducted by reputable Pan-African research and survey group, Afrobarometer, almost a third of registered voters indicated that they are uncertain about who they would be voting for. This is a significant number of people.

The Afrobarometer study, which was commissioned by the Cape Town-based Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (ICJ), also found that 47% of the respondents said they don’t feel close enough to any political party, meaning that their preference could change. This is an interesting finding for two reasons. Firstly, it undermines the popular belief that voters make emotional choices that are devoid of logic. This argument has been made particularly in the context of ANC voters, who are believed to be blind loyalists and uncritical voters.

This sentiment is explored in my recently published book, Why We Vote For The ANC: Conversations With Young ANC Voters in Gauteng, which argues that ANC voters are not only critical of the governing party, but that for young voters in particular, support for the party is conditional. The temptation to treat ANC voters as irrational is at the heart of the thinking that those who vote for it are either irrational or they’re gullible and easily moved by sentiment.

Secondly, it undermines surveys and polls that are currently being used to make predictions about what the election outcome. After all, if almost a third of voters are undecided and even those who have previously been polled could possibly change their minds about their initial preferences, then it’s clear that the existing data cannot be fully relied upon. It’s very possible that contrary to the accepted idea that those who have nailed their colours to the mast are the ones who will decide the government of the day, it will, in fact, be the undecided voters who could very well determine the election outcome.

Undecided voters are going to play an important role in today’s election. Someone is probably reading this article as they enjoy a cup of tea early in the morning, and are undecided about who they should vote for – or whether they should even go to the polling station to begin with.

Someone is probably reading this article on SowetanLIVE online as they stand in a queue, still undecided about which box to place an X. If you’re such person, you’re probably wondering what metrics you should use to determine who to give your very important vote to. It’s probably too late to do a comprehensive reading of the manifestos of different parties, or you’ve read the manifestos and none or them have convinced you enough.

Or maybe the manifestos of more than one party appeal to you and you now find yourself uncertain which one to give your vote to. This has happened to me before towards the local government elections. I was able to resolve the impasse by asking myself one question: “Which political party fights for those who are unable to fight for themselves?”

This may seem like a simple question, but it is not simplistic. The answer to this question will tell you which political party understands that real power is not about ruling over people, but about making sure that no one is reduced to a sub-human.

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