Hein Kaiser
3 minute read
3 Nov 2021
8:03 am

How the internet helped predict election results

Hein Kaiser

For the first time, social listening and online activity before the local government election may have predicted part of the outcome.

As the vote count of the local government elections approaches two-thirds completion, emerging trends match what the internet was saying leading up to the polls. Photo: Jacques Nelles

Sentiment and online search trends are often used as a measure of brand strength and reputation. But whether or not it holds any value has until now been the subject of a debate.

This, particularly given the reliance on artificial intelligence, accurate data gathering and ultimately human interpretation.

But, as the vote count of the local government elections approaches two-thirds completion, emerging trends match what the internet was saying leading up to the polls.

Voter apathy was the largest challenge during this election.

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And looking at the four weeks’ leading up to election day, the stability of the undecided or neutral position amongst the electorate coupled with low search trends gave early warning signs.

“It was clear from online activity that we’d have a low turnout at the ballot,” says digital analyst Carmen Murray.

“Meltwater sentiment along with search trends and online behaviours showed us that parties had to focus on getting people out to vote.”

As it stands, 8 million of the 26 million registered voters made their mark, an all-time low.

Johannesburg is one of the big prizes in this election and data suggested that votes cast will be in favour of a coalition between non-ANC parties.

By 5am on Wednesday morning the ANC had only garnered 38% of the vote, with ActionSA gaining just over 16% and the DA at 25%.

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Should this trend continue, the City of Gold is in for a change of government, and a coalition between parties previously in opposition.

The EFF may be a kingmaker for the ANC and strip the DA and ActionSA of its opportunity, but then again, would ActionSA and the DA agree on a Mashaba mayorship in exchange for power?

In the Jacaranda City, the DA’s performance, with 23% of the votes counted, is trending towards a coalition with the Freedom Front Plus, ActionSA and perhaps the Patriotic Alliance and the ACDP.

Together these parties, as at 5am today, hold a 52% majority with the ANC currently garnering 32% of the vote and the EFF just over 10%.

All things being equal, social listening and search trends forecast a collaborative effort between parties in Tshwane, too, with the ANC coming in second best.

With almost 40% of votes counted in the Western Cape the DA is standing at a massive 61% majority.


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Social listening predicted that the Mother City will remain blue, but warned of a loss of support, with ActionSA popularity surging despite the fact that it did not contest the city.

Added together, sentiment for the two parties suggested an outright majority for the DA.

eThekwini has had 28% of its votes counted thus far. Social listening and online trend analysis forecast a coalition in the city, too.

And if the trend continues as it has, this is the likely outcome. The ANC is presently on 40% but would have to cosy up to the EFF who’s earned 10% of the vote right now, to stay in power.

The DA has surged beyond expectations and stands at 30% of the count presently, ActionSA at just over 2% and the IFP edging over 6%.

There’s a bit of a way to go before the DA can claim this coalition, but it would have to woo both the IFP and ActionSA to get there.