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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist


Report shows SA’s shocking voter apathy

New report reveals 1/3 of South Africa's eligible voters uninterested in politics, with youth apathy a concern.


With South Africa’s watershed general election a few weeks away, a new voter sentiment report has revealed that almost a third of the 27.8 million registered and eligible voters, have confessed to not being interested in politics.

Among them are the 18 to 39 age band, accounting for 11.7 million people. A total of 12 668 respondents took part in the survey conducted by Storytelling for WhyFive Insights, a consumer insights consultancy, which collaborated in the compilation of the SA Voter Sentiment Report.

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The survey gauged perceptions and motivators of voters, impacting on their decision-making in the upcoming 29 May elections.

According to the findings:

• One third of new voters were just not interested in politics, with 45%, saying they knew little;

• When it came to policy issues, new voters were clearly more attracted to the concept of communism, with a lot more supportive of nationalisation of industry;

• While 46% of new voters thought communism would work in SA, 43% of old voters disagreed;

• About 64% of young voters thought banks and mines should be nationalised, while 49% of old voters disagreed; and

• There was a job to be done in engaging new voters more in an educational process, so that they understood the importance of participation in elections.

Race is irrelevant

On the subject of race, the study found that young and old voters shared the same perspective – describing race as being irrelevant in ensuring “working and living together”.

The research also found old and new voters concerned about a myriad of challenges confronting South Africa, with unemployment topping the list. Other key issues included education, electricity supply, crime, corruption, state of health care, gender-based violence and the SA economy.

Commenting on the study findings, Storytelling for WhyFive Insights director Brandon de Kock said youth voter apathy was “a global phenomenon”.

“But in South Africa – given our age demographic – the implications are rather different from a country like the US. “Put simply, if Stats SA is right about the population, then 50% of people who could vote are under the age of 35.

“The youth could genuinely change their destiny if they all ganged up together. “But somehow, we are still not able to fully engage them in the process.

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“Even at 11.7 million, the under-40 youth segment is a significant voting bloc in the upcoming elections, which is why we thought it would be interesting to find out what kind of issues would affect which boxes they choose on the ballot papers,” said De Kock.

He said 45% of old voters were also “on the negative side of the interest curve, which surely says something about how much we have all lost hope in our leadership, with hopelessness and ambivalence being brothers in arms”.

It was a bit sad, added De Kock. “But this is entirely understandable, given what has happened over the past 20 years.

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“I think it is a natural result of people feeling like they cannot really make a difference.”

He found as “significant” the confession by 50% of new voters not to know much about South African politics.

“I think it is fair to call that a solid failure in voter education. The implications are potentially enormous, because the challenges we face in terms of the political policies required to create a better future are rather complex.

“It is chess, not checkers, and you can lose badly if you do not understand the rules of the game.

“Seen in that light, the single most important thing political parties should be doing for the next days is clearly communicating their manifestos in a way that is easily understood by young voters – resonating with them.”

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