Polling Takes on Ominous Intent as South Africa Approaches Election 2024

ActionSA will be taking action against South Africa’s unregulated polling industry and those in the media who have become enablers of political disinformation under the guise of legitimate polling.

On 10 March, 3 media outlets published a poll without any reference to the origin of the poll. The same journalist previously published a poll in August 2022 with the same media outlets, also without referencing the origin of the poll. The names of the outlets and the journalist shall remain unnamed to avoid any claims of victimisation.

In both instances it is believed that the poll in question was a DA poll shared with these media institutions and, in turn, deliberately published without reference to the age-old question of cui bono – who benefits? The journalist goes as far as to confirm the poll was shared confidentially and that its origins are an institution with “an excellent track record” in polling.

For this, ActionSA has lodged a complaint with the Press Ombud against these media outlets because Section 1(2) of the Press Code requires them to “present news in context and in a balanced manner, without any intended or negligent departure from facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omission or summarisation;”

The intent of publishing these polls, without any reference to their origin, is evident by pattern presented. In the instance of the most recent poll, the outcomes place the DA at record levels of support (something which appears at odds with a party that has lost support in all demographics) and that MK and the EFF are growing prodigiously.

To answer the question that the journalist does not pose cui bono – the DA benefits from the artificial illusion of growth from a poll, which they themselves supply that places them at 19% in KZN (up from 13% in 2019) and 30% in Gauteng (up from 27% in 2019). Similarly, the poll generates the narrative of and from the rooi gewaar through alarming figures of MKP and EFF support – a favoured campaign approach of the DA to animate its core support base.

The article proceeds to use the Social Research Foundation (SRF) to cross reference the credibility arising from similar findings. What it does not point out if that the SRF polling is outsourced to Victory Research run by Gareth van Onselen (former DA staffer and outspoken opponent of parties that threaten the support of the DA.

Johan van den Berg, listed as the founder and MD of Victory Research, continues to list current employment with the DA as its Head of Research. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the polls from the SRF appear to serve the interests of the DA by placing their support levels at a staggering 30% while simultaneously presenting potential opponents of the DA as hardly featuring.

Finally, this week the Brenthurst Foundation produced a poll which placed the DA at 27% (up from 20% in 2019). Similarly, the poll paints the picture of a surging MKP at 13% – a practical impossibility for a party whose support is almost entirely limited to KZN and parts of Mpumalanga.

However, like the other polls referenced, it is helpful to paint a narrative of DA growth and the useful stick to whip out the vote against threat of a growing left alliance. The Brenthurst Foundation is the same body that paid for the DA Federal Leader to travel to the Ukraine at the outbreak of the Russian invasion.

The consequence of polls cannot be overestimated in South Africa where political momentum matters. This is precisely why many countries have elected to regulate the polling industry. France has regulations governing the publication of polls during periods of election campaigns.

In Canada, opinion pollsters must register with their electoral agency and adhere to regulations concerning the disclosure of the methodology and sponsorship of a poll. Brazil requires political polling companies to register with their Superior Electoral Court to provide information on who commissioned the poll, its methodology and its margin of error.

It is evident that polls in South Africa have no regulation and are open to abuse that appears to be designed to influence electoral trends in South Africa. While we will file a complaint with the Press Ombudsman (in terms of the City Press and News24 publication of the DA poll) and a complaint with the IEC in terms of misinformation – the answer lies in pushing for regulations that do not currently exist in our democracy that operates within a rapidly evolving political environment.

ActionSA will begin the long road to fight for regulation of this industry, but we will not stand back and allow the shadowy figures in the polling industry to operate with impunity while they are enabled by the vital democratic institution of a free and independent media.