Handbook chapter on the South African electoral system available free (for now)

Via Molly Balikov, of Oxford University Press (on Twitter), comes this good bit of news:

With the upcoming South African election, the chapter by Karen Ferree in the Oxford Handbook of Electoral Systems (co-edited by me) is free to access on line.

4 thoughts on “Handbook chapter on the South African electoral system available free (for now)

  1. It is amazing that the ANC wins majorities that most international political parties would dream especially in Western countries all under the most proportionate electoral system with no low district magnitude and legal thresholds. It appears that South Africa has a 2 party system under an List PR system albeit the DA and/or any of the other opposition parties as of this point or in the intermediate future are not a future government in waiting.

    So is it the electoral system that influences the party system or the party system impacts the electoral system? One would expect under a List PR system like South Africa, the largest party would be at 17% and the legislature be extremely fragmented with single issue interest group parties. It is very good that South Africa has this electoral system with no legal threshold and very low district magnitude. The ANC can use it’s huge majority and the close nature of the party list to punish dissidents, do the parties here in this situation expel dissident members as nobody can leave their party without losing their seat? In what case is anti-defection okay?

    Wasn’t there going to be any change to the electoral system by moving to an MMP system like for local government or toward having smaller district magnitudes and by having an open party list system? South Africa is a fairly big country, and one would think that people would want closer access to their politicians doing constituency work. How much of a percentage is being a member of a legislative body is constituency work, and how much time is spent in parliament debating bills?

    • As the linked South Africa chapter rightly points out, “the formidable salience of racial cleavages in South Africa strongly impacts the party system.”

      And as I note on my website’s page on South Africa’s electoral system (listed as a reference on the aforementioned chapter):

      “The 1996 constitution required Parliament to enact legislation to establish an electoral system for elections to the National Assembly (as well as the provincial legislatures) held after 1999. To that end, in 2002 the government appointed an Electoral Task Team (ETT), chaired by Dr. Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, the former leader of the Official Opposition in the whites-only Parliament. Opinion surveys conducted by the ETT showed a high level of satisfaction with the existing system, but also indicated that most voters wanted closer contact with elected officials.

      In a report released in 2003, a majority of the ETT members recommended that 300 of the 400 seats of the National Assembly be filled in sixty-nine multi-member constituencies, each returning between three and seven MPs. The remaining 100 seats would be filled on a national list. Constituency boundaries would be drawn along existing provincial, municipal and metropolitan boundaries. The constituencies would be used for national as well as provincial elections. […] However, by 2003 it was no longer possible to implement the system proposed by the ETT in time for the 2004 general election. As a result, Parliament passed an Electoral Laws Amendment Act that retained the existing electoral system, thus following the recommendation presented by a minority of the ETT members. […] Since the recommendations presented by the ETT majority were never implemented, the 2009 general election was held under the existing electoral system.”

      But back to the formidable salience of racial cleavages in South Africa, I might add there’s nothing really new about them. In this year’s general election, we had the ruling party (ANC) backed by the majority group with voting rights win with just over 57% of the vote, while the liberal party backed mostly by minority groups (DA) trailed a distant second with about a fifth of the vote. There was also a radical breakaway from the ruling party (EFF), emerging as a significant third party with double-digit support, which originated from voters belonging to the majority group, who nonetheless found the ruling party’s defense of its perceived group interests to be insufficient.

      However, if party labels are excluded this description could just as well apply to South Africa’s 1981 whites-only general election, in which the National Party, backed by the majority group with voting rights at the time (namely Afrikaners) won with about 57% of the vote, while the liberal Progressive Federal Party (PFP), backed mostly by the English-speaking minority within the white minority, trailed a distant second with just under a fifth of the vote. There was also the Reconstituted National Party (HNP), a radical breakaway from the ruling party emerging as a significant third party with double-digit support, which originated from voters belonging to the majority group, who nonetheless found the ruling party’s defense of its perceived group interests to be insufficient.

      Thus, in some ways South Africa’s 2019 general election could be seen as a mirror image of the 1981 election, albeit on the much larger scale of an electorate that now includes the country’s overwhelming non-white majority. However, there is one very important difference, namely the electoral system, which nowadays allows minority parties to attain representation in proportion to their voting strength, and also encourages them to run everywhere in the country, even in areas where they might be comparatively weak. Under the FPTP system in place back in 1981, the ruling National Party was greatly over-represented at the expense of minority parties, particularly those whose support didn’t concentrate to reach majority levels: this is precisely what happened to HNP, which failed to win a single parliamentary seat in that election (probably a plus). Moreover, opposition parties couldn’t afford then to put up candidates in many districts where they had no realistic prospects of winning or even achieving a respectable showing.

      All the same, as I commented five years ago DA continues to face pretty much the same challenge PFP and DP had to deal with in the past, albeit again on a much larger scale: expanding its fairly limited support among the majority group with voting rights (Afrikaners in the days of white minority rule, blacks at the present time). Just as important, one has to wonder if further along the road ANC will suffer a far more damaging split on the left than the earlier EFF breakaway, resulting in the emergence of a new leftist challenger, much more powerful than EFF but somewhat less extremist than the latter (which might end up sidelined in the process). If such a development takes place, it would mirror the 1982 National Party split, which led to the creation of the far-right Conservative Party (CP), which in turn eclipsed the even more extreme HNP.

      • A few weeks ago I finally included on my website’s South Africa page the results of last May’s election; I also took the opportunity to run some correlations between the election results and South African census data. Initially I worked at the level of the country’s 213 local municipalities, where I found a very high inverse correlation (-0.90) between the DA share of the vote and the black African percentage of the population in the 2011 census; that figure remained at -0.88 when census figures were substituted with data from the 2016 Community Survey.I also found a very high correlation at the municipal level of 0.90 between the share for the right-wing VF+ (whose vote increased noticeably in the election) and the percentage of Afrikaans-speaking whites over the total population in 2011 (0.91 when using 2016 Community Survey data).

        In fact, the municipal-level results of last May’s election showed that in municipalities where the population is 95%+ black African (on average 98% black and 1% white), the DA vote came down to about 5%, behind EFF and even IFP, while ANC remained far ahead with 70% of the vote; the exact figures vary depending on whether 2011 or 2016 population figures are used for the analysis.

        However, for good measure I ran the correlations at the electoral ward level – the lowest level for which both election results and 2011 detailed population statistics are readily available (the 2016 Community Survey data doesn’t go below the local municipality level). There are currently a total of 4,392 wards in South Africa, and at this level the inverse correlation between the DA share of the vote and the percentage of black Africans was even stronger, standing at -0.93. Meanwhile, the correlation between the VF+ share of the vote and the percentage of white Afrikaners over the total population remained at 0.90.

        In addition, clear voting patterns emerged when wards were grouped by race majority (or plurality): DA won handily in majority white, Coloured or Indian/Asian wards, but dropped to single digits and came behind EFF in majority black African wards, where ANC won a sweeping victory (95% of black South Africans live in majority black wards, while 74% of Coloureds and 61% of whites reside in majority Coloured and white wards, respectively; the majority black wards are 93% black, while the majority Coloured wards are 75% Coloured and the majority white wards are 63% white; the majority Indian/Asian wards are 64% Indian/Asian, but only account for 38% of that group’s overall population).

        Separately, I also tested a fifth, “no race dominant” category (no racial group over 50% and second largest group at or above 25%), but I found it made little difference in the results for the other groups. Overall, the “no race dominant” category was plurality black with a sizable white minority not far behind, as well as substantial numbers of Coloureds and Indians/Asians. In the election that additional category went solidly for DA, although by considerably less than the combined non-black majority (white-Coloured-Indian/Asian) wards, while ANC didn’t do nearly as well as the increased percentage of blacks (relative to the non-black group) would have suggested; on the other hand the EFF vote appeared to be largely in line with the increase in the percentage of blacks.

        Speaking of EFF, in an earlier comment I had compared its result with that of the far-right HNP in the 1981 white House of Assembly election. However, after going over ward figures grouped by race on a province-by-province basis that assessment needs to be qualified. Even just looking at the majority black wards, EFF remained at best below 20% and nearly fifty points behind ANC; by contrast, in 1981 many National Party MPs were horrified to see their HNP challengers – who usually polled in the single digits – rack up 30% of the vote, and in some cases even more. As such, EFF isn’t quite yet as strong a challenger to ANC on the left – even among blacks – as HNP was to NP on the right among Afrikaners back in 1981, but that could change in the years ahead.

        In fact, a far more apt analogy with the rise of HNP in 1981 among Afrikaner voters would be precisely the substantial vote increase for VF+, which had its best showing in majority white wards, where it won 11% of the vote; it fared poorly elsewhere, polling just 2% even in Coloured wards, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact it had Peter Marais, a former Cape Town mayor, Western Cape premier and notorious party hopper as its Western Cape candidate for premier (Mr. Marais has switched parties over half-a-dozen times in the past twenty-five years). In fact, the low VF+ share in Coloured wards was strongly correlated (0.84) to the 6% white minority (mostly Afrikaners) living in those wards. Moreover, within the majority white wards there was a wide gap in VF+ support between wards where whites were predominantly English-speaking, and those where they were mainly Afrikaans-speaking: VF+ polled just 3% in the former but reached 15% in the latter. The latter figure rose to 23% and 24% in the white majority wards of the North-West and Limpopo provinces (25% and 23% in the provincial ballot), where the white population remains overwhelmingly Afrikaner. This turn of events may well be a South African manifestation of the worldwide surge of the populist right, but also the recurrence of a historical phenomenon among Afrikaners, or a combination of both. In any event, earlier this summer VF+ went on to win by a landslide (albeit on a low turnout) a municipal by-election in a Stilfontein (City of Matlosana) ward where it had narrowly outvoted DA in the May provincial ballot.

        There were also fairly evident voter turnout differences among the four ward groups: white majority wards had a far higher turnout rate (78%) than black- or Coloured-majority wards (65% in each case) or Indian/Asian majority wards (68%).

        Finally, the ward-level election results show two very different South Africas co-existing side by side: one comprised by wards where black Africans constituted at least 95% of the population (on average over 99%), in which ANC swept the election on a 63% turnout with 73% of the vote, far ahead of EFF (13%), IFP (5%) and DA (4%); and another made up of wards in the rest of the country, where black Africans constituted 49% of the population, Coloureds and whites 22% each and Indians/Asians 6%, and where DA prevailed over ANC, 42% to 38%, with EFF polling 8% and VF+ 5%, on a 70% turnout rate.

  2. Pingback: South African vote and census data | Fruits and Votes

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