With the country coming out of a long period plagued by corruption and mismanagement, it’s possible that voters have lost belief that their votes will make any difference to their circumstances after the elections.
This theory makes some sense when looking at the voter turnout decline per province as compared to 1999. Overall, voter turnout has decreased by a staggering 23.77%.
Western and Gauteng lowest drop off
Voter turnout in provinces with more populous urban areas like the Western Cape and Gauteng are notably lower than those provinces with larger rural voting bases.
Another notable aspect is that both Western Cape and Gauteng are provinces where the opposition have a serious chance of wresting power from the ruling party by way of a coalition after the elections.
This competition is probably a significant driver in the higher turnout. In these provinces, there’s a much more realistic sense that voting could make a difference provincially and nationally.
Rural provinces struggle during elections
The province that has seen the biggest drop in voter turnout during the 2019 elections – compared to 1999 – is Limpopo with 34.72%. The Eastern Cape recorded 30.52% and North West with 29.87%.
In addition, the Free State and Mpumalanga get special mentions with 28.8% and 27.1% respectively.
Voter apathy and complacency
The increasing trend of voter apathy in these more rural provinces could be a real sign of complacency by both the ruling party and its voters, with many people assuming that an ANC victory is a foregone conclusion.
The government has failed many of these provinces. Not just in terms of service delivery but rampant corruption too. It’s perhaps not unfair to suggest that for many voters, the honeymoon is well and truly over.
Should a real alternative to the ANC begin targeting these unhappy provinces, they could quickly gain a groundswell of support. The low rural voter turnout fits in well with the fact that the ANC looks set to lose ground once again in terms of their national majority.
It would be in their interest to start looking seriously at why rural voters are not heading to the polls. And why urban voters are increasingly looking for a home in other parties.