What makes people keep voting for a specific party?

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Copy of PN IEC Results9 Independent Newspapers Independent Electoral Commission chairwoman Pansy Tlakula announces the official 2014 national and provincial election results in Pretoria on Saturday. Photo: Phill Magakoe

From a leadership point of view, what can we learn from the election results? Why do the majority of South Africans continue to vote for the ANC? And why do some continue voting for the DA? Why was Cope the flavour during the previous elections, yet almost disappeared this time round? Why is the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) the flavour this time, and will it stick around for longer than five years? Why did AgangSA not even come close to cutting it?

People follow for one or more of these reasons:

- An emotional connection with the leader/s, which more likely than not includes respect;

- An emotional connection with the message or the cause;

- An emotional connection with the organisation;

- Because logic dictates they must, almost as if they have no choice. This could include some kind of intellectual connection.

A leader who can somehow create all three emotional connections and have logic on his side is in a good space and will more often than not be unbeatable.

The ANC won with an overwhelming majority in the first few elections because it literally ticked every one of the four boxes. There was an emotional connection with the leader, Nelson Mandela, and several other Struggle icons.

There was a very strong, deep emotional connection with the message and cause. There was an unbreakable emotional connection with the organisation that had been engaged in the Struggle for so long. Added to this, there was a logical, intellectual argument as to why South Africans had to vote for the ANC.

It was perceived to be the only alternative, especially for the black voter. An overwhelming majority was inevitable; the ANC was unbeatable!

Looking at the DA, why did people vote for it in the past and now? The dominant reason is that of logic – reason four. Their reality is one of superficial loyalty, no real emotional connection, but rather one of voting for the party because of the “numbers” game, a logical argument that our country needs good opposition to function as a mature democracy.

So its following is mostly based on logic and little emotion, except for those who have a race concern, who believe this is still a war between black and white, which by its very nature is an emotional issue.

But, of course, the DA cannot proclaim the cause of offering insecure white compatriots an emotional and physical home. Temporarily it seems to work for it, though. The entire premise of the DA is a sound intellectual argument, that we need strong opposition.

To a large degree this came from the intellectual Tony Leon. However, the way he attracted most of the white, even Afrikaner, votes was when he tapped into their emotions with his famous “Fight back” campaign. That is why at the time there was such an incredible surge in the DA’s support base.

Then, as the ANC starts “unticking” the boxes above, the logical case for supporting the DA increases; the intellectual argument behind why one should vote for the DA strengthens.

There is no doubt that as Struggle heroes within the ANC started benefiting, or even enriching themselves, in our new democracy, they also started breaking that emotional connection with their followers, and a trust divide developed. I am convinced that President Jacob Zuma as a leader has damaged this specific emotional connection.

But the emotional connection with the ANC organisation has saved the day and remains intact, because loyalty is extremely strong, built up over many decades, so it does not easily erode.

This is especially true when what it delivered over that period is seen as invaluable and inextricably linked to core human motivators, like freedom to choose, equality, restoring dignity, and much more.

The timeless emotional connection with the ANC, almost as if it is a family member, is why even when a huge scandal like Nkandla rocks our country, citizens still vote for the ruling party.

And even though the DA comes with a strong logical argument that attracts many, the logical argument of what the ANC has delivered economically and practically is still a strong enough one, which, together with the remaining emotional connections, renders it unbeatable.

The ANC’s emotional connection between leaders and followers has taken a serious knock. The emotional connection with the message or cause has also eroded somewhat, but there is still enough of a reserve to fall back on.

And as mentioned previously, the emotional connection with the organisation remains, because one remains loyal towards family members even when they disappoint, not so? I remain a Groenewald no matter what I do.

Why did the EFF have a good start to its electoral career? There is an emotional connection with its message or cause, because the ANC has created a void in that area. Its challenge will be how to build the emotional connection with the organisation, which takes time.

And as Cope discovered, the comfortable benches of Parliament are not exactly an easy place from which to develop this connection. There seems to be an emotional connection between followers and Julius Malema, probably because he advocates their cause so fearlessly.

Another prominent leader commented to me that Malema was not courageous but desperate. While this may have been true in the beginning stages, I am not sure that this is still the case.

Possible desperation has grown into courage, which has probably transformed into confidence after the election results. But is it the only alternative? Perhaps so for those who are desperate for economic change, who are impatient with ANC performance. So the future bodes well for the EFF, unless it, like others, becomes its own worst enemy while navigating the ego-infested minefields of formal politics.

Any question as to why Agang failed so dismally? And why did Cope not last? It becomes clear, doesn’t it?

As long as the ANC delivers at an average pace and builds its brand, it is probably going to be unbeatable for a long time to come.

However, it is moving in the wrong direction with emotional connections slowly disappearing and its logical case becoming weaker as the years roll on, indicated by the recent drop of a few percentage points in its support base. The ANC is its own worst enemy.

The DA will never catch it, unless something dramatic happens on its side that builds emotional connections on all three levels – leaders, cause and organisation.

These principles are as relevant in any organisation. Many leaders are promoted into management positions, and are then followed because their subordinates have no choice. This reason may be sufficient because followers need their monthly salary after all.

However, the full potential of leaders, followers and organisations is only achieved when leaders can create an emotional connection on one, two or even three levels.

The ANC must become humble of its own accord and take note of the above.

The DA will have to go back to the drawing board, because it doesn’t seem to see the above picture, as indicated by its near blunder of trying to bring Dr Mamphele Ramphele on board.

The EFF will have to keep its momentum going by working harder at those emotional connections and positioning its logical argument more clearly.

As for the rest, they must demonstrate emotional intelligence and courage by moving on and out of politics.

* Adriaan Groenewald, the lead contributor to the BR Leadership Platform, is a leadership expert and managing director and co-founder of Leadership Platform (www.leadershipplatform.com / or follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP). Send comments to [email protected] or to the Business Report editor: [email protected] (@Ellis_Mnyandu)


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