South African vote and census data

The following is not my post. It is a comment by Manuel on an earlier post. It is so interesting in its detail, that I thought it deserved to be “promoted” to a central place in the virtual orchard.

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 thoughts on “South African vote and census data

  1. First of all, thank you so much for promoting my comment. I’m delighted to know you found it interesting.

    Now, I would like to make an observation about the last paragraph regarding the two South Africas, to caution against an interpretation along the lines of “DA was the largest party in the part of South Africa where blacks weren’t an absolute majority of the population.” Put succinctly, for the National Assembly election the DA plurality area could be expanded – at the expense of reducing the party’s lead to a minimum – to include wards where black Africans outnumbered all other population groups combined by as much as 29-to-1, for an overall black majority of up to 52%. Meanwhile, for the provincial election the DA plurality area could include wards where blacks constituted up to just below 98% of the population, resulting in an overall black African majority as large as 55%. That said, just increasing the ward population threshold from 95% to 96% black African leaves DA with a 41%-to-39% majority over ANC in the area where it won a plurality (44%-to-37% in the provincial vote), and a black majority of slightly over 50% of the corresponding population.

    I should also note there’s a marked urban-rural divide between the two South Africas. The part of South Africa that backed DA is overwhelmingly urban, while the part of the country that lined up behind ANC is more rural, albeit with a significant urban component (overall, 63% of South Africa’s population in 2011 lived in urban areas, 32% in tribal/traditional areas and 5% in farming areas). ANC remains strongest in predominantly tribal/traditional area wards, where the party polled 72% of the vote (71% in the provincial ballot); that figure increases to 79% (78% in the provincial vote) without KwaZulu-Natal, where IFP won 25% of the vote in tribal/traditional area wards (27% in the provincial ballot), to 56% for ANC (55% in the provincial vote). However, in the provincial election ANC fell to 49% in predominantly urban wards (52% in the National Assembly vote). The urban-rural divide was also evident in the VF+ vote: although white Afrikaners constituted just under 8% of the total population in both predominantly urban and farming area wards, the party polled 3% in the former but reached 5% in the latter (4% in the provincial ballot).

    Finally, I’ve been working on new, more detailed maps covering both South Africa’s election last May as well as relevant census statistics – which in the process uncovered a phantom border. More about that later.

    • As anticipated in my previous comment, my website’s South Africa page now has ward-level maps of South Africa’s National Assembly and provincial elections last May, and also of selected 2011 census statistics under the ward configuration in place since 2016. All maps can be displayed at the national, provincial or municipal level (the latter for the country’s eight metropolitan municipalities only), in either medium or high resolution, and with or without ward boundaries in all cases.

      Interestingly enough, the phantom borders of South Africa’s troubled past are clearly visible in some of these maps, most notably in the map displaying the majority first language of South Africa’s white population. Although only 2% of white South Africans spoke one of the country’s nine official African languages as a first language, they constituted a majority of the white population in a surprisingly large number of wards: as it turned out, those wards were located mainly in the now defunct bantustans of the apartheid era, but also in other predominantly black African areas of the country, such as Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township.

      However, all of these wards had very small white population totals, under a hundred in all but one instance, and under twenty-five in the vast majority of cases (excluding the “not applicable” column from the totals). Among 1,383 wards (of 4,392) with a white population of at least 125 – again, disregarding the “not applicable” category for first language – all but two had either Afrikaans or English as the majority first language; the 2011 census data available online does not furnish details on non-official languages, grouped under the “Other” category, but further research indicates the two exceptions were German speakers in or around the community of Lüneburg in Kwazulu-Natal. At any rate, 99% of South Africa’s white population lived in the aforementioned 1,383 wards, where they constituted 26% of the population. Not surprisingly, the election last May was very closely fought in that part of South Africa, with ANC ahead of DA by a whisker, 39.6% to 39.5%.

      Speaking of phantom borders and last May’s election, the outline of the old Transkei homeland is also visible in the maps showing parties in second place for the National Assembly and provincial elections: ANC swept the former Transkei with 80% of the vote, while DA finished a poor fourth with only 3% of the vote, behind EFF (7%) and UDM (4%). In fact, ANC won 72% of the National Assembly vote in the old black homelands, which largely allowed the party to retain a reduced absolute majority: in the rest of South Africa ANC won just 50.1% of the vote.

      Finally, at some point in the near future I expect to have a blog posting detailing the various findings on this topic. Right now I cannot be more specific about when it will be online, not least because of the vicinity of a potential tropical system which could affect Puerto Rico early next week. It’s not likely to be a particularly strong system (assuming it does develop as currently forecast), but two years after the catastrophe of Hurricane Maria the Commonwealth’s electric grid remains extremely fragile, and the prevailing view here is that it won’t withstand even a phenomenon as weak as a tropical depression.

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