Disbelief in power of polls is ‘wake-up call’

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1994 ballot box INLSA A 1994 ballot boxes on show now at the IEC results ops centre in Pretoria. Photo: Louis Flanagan

Cape Town - More South Africans believe their “vote will make no difference” compared to the previous two elections, says a recent survey by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

But despite their pessimism, 79 percent of South Africans feel it is important to vote.

The HSRC has been running a yearly survey since 2003 on the attitudes of South Africans.

The latest survey released on Thursday is based on interviews with 2 885 respondents aged 16 years and older, who are living in private homes.

The HSRC found close to half or 46 percent of adult South Africans interviewed did not believe their vote would make a difference to electoral outcomes.

“Looking at trends over the last decade… beliefs in the efficacy (of voting) going into the 2014 national and provincial elections is significantly lower than in the lead-up to the 2004 and 2009 elections,” wrote researchers Jarè Struwig and Benjamin Roberts in their report.

Prior to the 2004 elections 35 percent of those surveyed felt their vote would not make a difference and before the 2009 election 36 percent held the same belief.

Since 2010 the percentage of people who doubted the efficacy of their vote increased from 39 percent to 46 percent last year.

The survey found 41 percent agreed with the statement: “After being elected, all parties are the same, so voting is pointless” and 43 percent agreed “voting was meaningless because no politician can be trusted”. The report noted in the case of both indicators, the proportion of those critical of elected officials and politicians increased by approximately 10 percentage points relative to pre-election survey rounds in 2003 and 2008.

Political analyst Susan Booysen, from Wits University, said the survey findings confirmed her own research that showed a growing number of people had “severe condemnation of the efficacy of one of the pillars of our democracy”.

“This disdain and rejection of politicians are the reason why there are more protests in communities,” Booysen said.

She said South Africans still have a “love affair with elections” and that is why large numbers of people still vote despite the growing disbelief in its efficacy.

“Most still vote in celebration of 1994 and also possibly in hope that their vote will still bring about change,” Booysen said. The survey found younger voters’ views on voting were not considerably different from older generations.

Trust of politicians is the highest among 18- to 19-year-olds (66 percent) while distrust of politicians is the highest among 30- to 49-year-olds (48.2 percent).

The survey noted that among racial groups, the belief that their vote would not make a difference was the highest among coloured voters.

Altogether 53.47 percent of coloured voters and 47.36 percent of African voters believe their vote would not make a difference and only 25.5 percent of white South Africans shared the same view.

It found 51 percent of people expressed discontent with democracy, while only 33 percent were satisfied with the way democracy was working. This reflected a complete reversal of 2003 results.

Political analyst Amanda Gouws, from Stellenbosch University, said dissatisfaction of voters and disbelief in the efficacy of their vote showed how disempowered people felt and it was a “wake-up call for politicians”.

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