File picture: David Ritchie African News Agency (ANA)

We are weeks away from what opposition parties are deeming as “the most important election since 1994” and it’s therefore no surprise that South Africans (politicians included) are voicing their concerns over the state of the country.

The continuing corruption scandals, the publication of political party lists, and the very evident struggle at Eskom has led to an increase in voter political alienation, an increase in perceptions of corruption, and has reduced South Africans’ confidence that the country is heading in the right direction.

The 2019 Q1 South African Citizens Survey (SACS) by Citizen Surveys compared and analysed public opinions across various data set categories from January to March 2019. 

Here are the top 5 key findings from the latest South African Citizens Survey (SACS) report:

1. Party support is ever-wavering, but undecided voters remain key

Based on a high-turnout scenario of 77% (20-million voters) who are registered, motivated, and easily able to get to a polling station:

● Eskom’s March load shedding has impacted upon the potential electoral performance of the ANC, decreasing from a vote of support of 63% in February to 61% in March 2019.
● The EFF has been the principal beneficiary of the drop in ANC support, as the party’s potential electoral performance rises from 9% in February to 11% in March 2019.
● After seeing an increase in their estimated electoral performance in January (21%), the DA saw a return to 19%, both in February and March 2019.
● Undecided voters may still have a significant impact on the electoral outcome, since they are neither partisan nor prefer a particular party, and many undecided voters may still decide to cast their ballot in favour of other parties.


2. Trust in Eskom has dropped drastically and contributed to the increased perception of corruption

Trust in Eskom dropped by a drastic 17% in the first three months of 2019, falling from 56% in January to 49% in February, and then by a further 10% to 39% in March. This is hardly surprising given the massive impact that the recent load shedding - and the public discoveries of the true state of Eskom’s finances following Mabuza and Gordhan’s recent statements - has had on South Africans. The perception that corruption was increasing dropped from 81% in December 2018 to 75% in January this year, followed by a further drop to 70% in February 19. 

This last drop coincides with President Ramaphosa’s promise to crack down on those responsible for State Capture in his State of the Nation Address. In March, however, the effects of State Capture were made obvious, with the ramping up of load shedding that affected all South Africans and resulted in perceptions of corruption rising rapidly from 70% in February to 79% in March. There is therefore a correlation between how the public’s mistrust in Eskom directly influences their perceptions of corruption.

3. The direction of the county looks bleak

The results from the 2018 Q4 SACS data (October to December 2018), indicated that 27% of South Africans believed that the country was headed in the right direction. This increased to 30% in January and held steady in February 2019. This dropped to a mere 22% in March, however, which again correlates with Eskom’s implementation of extensive load shedding and the subsequent exposure of the depth of corruption and mismanagement in this State-Owned Enterprise.

4. South Africans alienate some leaders from their parties

It’s become evident that many South Africans are seemingly disassociating specific leaders from their respective parties. This has become particularly evident when noting how ANC President Ramaphosa has emerged pretty much unscathed following the March load shedding, in fact, his favourability rating increased from 55% from Q4 of 2018 to 57% in Q1 of 2019, even though the Eskom crisis resulted in a decrease in potential electoral performance for the ANC.

This can also be seen in the evident decrease in EFF leader Julius Malema’s favourability, which decreased by 3% in comparison with Q4 of 2018, even though the EFF’s potential electoral performance increased by 2% in the same period.

5. There are 5.1-million unmotivated, yet registered voters, as political alienation grows

Within the (just short of) 27-million registered voters, the number of unmotivated voters has grown from 15% in January to 18% in February and reached an all-time high of 19% (5.1-million unmotivated voters) in March 2019. Reza Omar, Strategic Research Director at Citizen Surveys, says:  “Political parties are doing their utmost to gain as much support as possible in the next few weeks, but the unmotivated registered voters who are currently feeling politically alienated should be a core group that they attempt to reach.

“The 8% decrease in the number of South Africans who believe the country is heading in the right direction - in comparison to January and February this year - shows the need for drastic action to be taken to reassure the South African public that socio-economic conditions can, and
will, improve,” concludes Omar.

About the South African Citizen Survey (SACS)

Running since 2015, the South African Citizen Survey is a survey by Citizen Surveys. Data is collated from face-to-face interviews with a nationally-representative sample of 3,900 respondents per quarter. Since 2015 over 50,000 interviews have been conducted. 

Interviews are conducted in English, Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Sotho, Sepedi, and Setswana. 

Sampling sites are selected through scientific probability sampling in all provinces and across the metro, urban and rural divide. The sample is based on the latest StatsSA estimates of the population aged 18 and older and sample weights are applied to ensure the sample represents the most recent national population with respect to province, race, gender, age, and area type.

Quarterly data is released on a total of 3,900 respondents, which produces results with a margin of error margin of error of ±1.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.