Opinion Polling has consistently underestimated new political parties – and it will do so again in 2024

We’ve been at this point before where opinion polling underestimates the impact new political players such as ActionSA will have on the electoral landscape. And, with the 2024 elections just a few months away, opinion polling will again underestimate the impact we will have. That is why recent opinion polling does not disturb us because we know that we have proven them grossly wrong before and will do so again next year.

In the days leading up to the 2021 municipal government elections, opinion polls after opinion polls suggested that ActionSA would struggle electorally. An Ipsos Poll on 7 September 2021 said we were likely going to attract 1% of the popular support. At the end of September 2021, the Centre for Risk Analysis proposed that our support lay slightly below 1%.

But, on election day on 1 November 2021, we proved the opinion polls wrong – achieving 2.36% of national popular support despite only contesting in six out of 278 municipalities. In Gauteng alone, ActionSA achieved over 10% of the entire Province after only contesting 3 out of the 9 Municipalities.

While opinion polls tried to distract our activists, I steadfastly maintained that ActionSA would shock pollsters and commentators alike. From working on the ground in communities in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, I knew that there was a groundswell of support and that pollsters were getting things wrong.

My interactions with everyday South Africans showed me that ActionSA’s message of building a political alternative was resonating. In the end, I was proven right when ActionSA achieved double the support that any opinion poll suggested we’d achieve.

We have to keep this in mind as we embark on the 2024 election campaign. This is because opinion polling has struggled to accurately predict support for new political players. Next year will be the very first elections ActionSA will be contesting nationally and therefore there is no precedent for pollsters to make use of.

Pollsters make use of previous electoral outcomes when allocating the support of undecided voters during polling – but if there is no previous electoral outcome for a political party, how will they be able to allocate that support? Furthermore, polling is often heavily influenced by the views of voters in urban areas while neglecting the views of rural voters.

It should also be noted that opinion polling has often been used as a tool to sway public support or influence donor support ahead of important elections. Numbers have been adjusted or displayed in such a way that it amounts to political engineering in a bid to achieve a certain outcome.

This while current opinion polling in South Africa is mostly conducted by the former staffers of opposition parties, and therefore cannot be considered objective. At best opinion polling is political propaganda to be used for political ends.

That is why I believe a much better indication of the support a political party is likely to receive is the result of by-elections that take place in wards across South Africa. ActionSA, having contested by-elections in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo, has proven that it is a breakout star, able to take support away from established political players and galvanise previously unregistered voters to the polls.

This past year, ActionSA received 10% of support in by-elections in Polokwane, Limpopo, and deep rural Nongama, KwaZulu-Natal, despite never having competed there before. This shows that when voters hear our message of a political alternative, they are energised to vote for action.

ActionSA is also coming from a highly successful policy conference held a few weeks ago where hundreds of our members from across the country voted on the solutions we offer to fix the country. The policy conference resulted in ActionSA offering the first real and credible alternative to failed Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) which will empower millions of South Africans and create millions of jobs.

We now also have solutions on how to restore the rule of law by ensuring that bail for serious crimes is abolished, and those convicted contribute to society. We have also resolved to tackle the challenge of illegal immigration head-on within the confines of our Constitution and all the laws applied in the Republic of South Africa. These policies, among many others, have energised our supporters and have further led to a surge in ground support which will undoubtedly lead to increased electoral support.

Furthermore, next year will be the first time in South Africa’s democratic dispensation that a real possibility exists that the ruling party can be removed from government, and replaced by a coalition government. Through the work of political parties across the spectrum, an agreement has now been formed which can bring an end to the destruction of the ruling party’s rule and bring good coalition governance across South Africa.

The possibility of change is enough to compel millions of discouraged voters to the polls. Imagine what will happen if the 14 million eligible but unregistered voters, and 10 million registered voters who didn’t vote in 2019, vote for change in 2024? That is something which pollsters simply cannot currently account for when completing polling as their models are based on low voter turnout scenarios.

ActionSA has already launched our large-scale voter campaign in Soweto on Youth Day, June 16th, where thousands of new voters were registered to vote for the first time, and we will in the next few weeks amplify our efforts to register new voters. In every community in every single province, ActionSA will deploy our activists to register new voters and make sure that they are inspired to vote in 2024.

Alongside our efforts and the efforts of other political parties to register new voters, this will likely lead to next year’s elections seeing a swell of new voters which will fundamentally change our country’s political dynamics.

South Africa is too important to leave it up to the naysayers to dissuade us that change is possible. While polls may paint a negative picture of the possibilities in 2024, we should instead be encouraged by the reality on the ground.

In communities across South Africa, both urban and rural, voters are starting to consider other possibilities and are inspired to vote for change. Over and over again I have seen this with my very own eyes, and that is why recent polling does not concern me.

New political parties have proven pollsters wrong before, and we will do so again next year.