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By Hein Kaiser

Journalist


DA is winning the social media war

Online buzz hints at a potential surge in support for the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters ahead of the elections.


Is there a blue wave of support for the Democratic Alliance (DA) about to burst over us… or should we not believe what we see online?

Online conversations and activity already point to a significant shift in interest towards the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), says Michélle Venter of Bold Online Marketing, a company that specialises in strategic online research and campaigns.

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“When you look at a map, the DA has made inroads almost everywhere,” she said.

The party should up the ante in Limpopo, the Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, though, Venter added, suggesting online penetration in these provinces necessitated an on-the-ground approach.

EFF also doing well

The EFF is also making solid inroads into the electorate. Online behaviour tells a different story to opinion polls, bar the fact that the ANC will be the biggest loser in May.

“The ANC, MK [uMkhonto weSizwe party] and the EFF are particularly good at grassroots campaigning,” said Venter, “and it is not always visible online in areas where online penetration is significantly lower than in more technologically connected provinces, like Gauteng or the Western Cape.”

In provinces like Limpopo and the Northern Cape and, to some extent, rural KZN, direct community engagement, or traditional media, become key campaign architecture elements.

In Limpopo and the Northern Cape, the ANC continues to lead in popularity, and that reflects online. “MK, on the other hand, has run out of conversational steam to some extent,” says Venter.

“While the chatter was significant when former president Jacob Zuma launched his party, it’s now been relegated to insignificant noise.”

Added to that, years of negative publicity about Zuma exposes anyone who searches for MK and its leader to the very sentiment that led to his presidential demise in the first place, she said.

“The DA has a well-oiled online machine,” said Venter, pointing out that there’s never a shortage of news delivery from the party, which also includes a lot of provincial input that creates a perception of depth and breadth of influence.

“But John Steenhuisen’s party could do with some influencerstyle content across social media on top of propaganda-type posting. The party can reposition itself to be more accessible to all generations, especially younger voters.”

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An interesting development, said Venter, is that the geography of the DA’s support includes many townships and areas where the party has not had much of a foothold in the past.

“This is particularly true in KwaZulu-Natal, where the DA’s multilingual premier candidate, Chris Pappas, has won the hearts and minds of voters,” she said.

Former DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s campaign needs a lot of work, continued Venter.

“Build One South Africa is a blip on the radar and presently quite insignificant beyond self-generated conversation.”

She said nobody is really looking for them and interest levels are low. Rise Mzansi and other smaller parties have not garnered much interest, either.

“Of all the younger political parties contesting, ActionSA dominates right now,” she said.

Herman Mashaba’s party is gaining substantial ground across the country and, statistically, could be a contender for at least 10% of the vote, as things stand – that is, if online activity is the sole litmus test.

Coalitions were predicted in 2021

During the 2021 municipal elections, analysis of online activity and chatter helped The Citizen correctly call coalition government outcomes in major metros.

The EFF looks like it might grow to a 20% party, said Venter. “Looking at online activity, cross-referenced to geographic locations, it seems as if Julius Malema’s party will make substantial rural inroads and, too, a healthy measure of urban support.

“MK, on the other hand, will not perform as strongly as opinion polls might suggest. Based on actual activity, the party is closer to irrelevance than making real inroads right now.”

However, Venter reiterated that online activity is blind to grassroots campaigning.

“Interest in the ANC is waning, and news cycles of negative exposes and sustained corruption keeps lynching the party’s online reputation,” she said.

She cautioned that it might be too late to recover much of the tatters of the party’s reputation.

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“Sloganeering no longer saves perceptions of poor governance and as voters become savvier about politics and internet connectivity continues to grow, positivity about the party continues to shrink.”

The Patriotic Alliance is not a threat to the DA’s majority in the Western Cape.

Venter said beyond publicity-generating social media endeavours, like leader Gayton McKenzie’s border sortie and the recent Joshlyn Smith case, very little interest had been shown.

“There just is no real narrative,” Venter said. Analysis of online activity is a moving target, and constant monitoring is critical to note changes in public behaviours.

“As we move closer to election day, things may change. But as it stands, the country is in for a massive shift to the DA.”