Why are so many young South African voters disillusioned?

Why are so many young South African voters disillusioned?

We recently partnered with a consortium of organisations to create a campaign to drive voting behaviour amongst young voters. The campaign was funded by a group of South African businesspeople, and we partnered with the Vega School and The Hardy Boys for the creative side of the campaign. The IEC is a supportive observer of the project but did not fund it.

In order to inform the campaign, we first needed some insights into why young people don’t intend on voting. To get these insights, we conducted a very quick chatbot survey that asked free-form open-ended questions as to what prevents young people from voting and what motivates them to vote. We then used NLP (natural language processing) and data science techniques (i.e. “AI”) to extract what they talked about and related it back to their voting intention. See News24’s coverage of the survey.

The results were pretty clear. 58% of our sample said that they would definitely vote, which was encouraging. The rest were either wavering or flat-out indicated that they would never vote. For these people, the main issue was a general malaise of disillusionment with the current political system.

Chart: voting intention results
Voting intention results for the survey on a scale from 1-5

All respondents mentioned the current economic crisis we find ourselves in and a desperate need for change. These were issues that cut across the entire sample and so did not give us additional information into what drives disillusionment specifically, implying that a message of “vote for change” is not enough to actually get people to the polls. On the other hand, two key issues specifically drove low voting intention, giving us insight into what underlies the disillusionment: a history of broken promises and failed commitments by those in power, and a difficulty in choosing which party to vote for when there appeared to be no good options on the table. These psychographic insights help us craft effective messages to ‘unlock’ their behaviour.

While the psychographics insights give us the most insight into voting intention, it is also interesting to look at where people live and where they sit in the economy so that we can target them with our message. From a demographics perspective, lower voting intention was associated with a lack of access to the formal economy; proxies for which included a lack of access to a good education and formal housing.  Our interpretation of this is that voters who are part of the formal economy are more likely to see the benefits of service delivery and thus more likely to vote.

As a last part of the analysis, we used clustering algorithms to group the respondents together on the basis of their psychographics (the issues they discussed) and demographics (where they live, etc.). The result was the following five data-led segments, which help give faces to the kinds of young voters that out there, which in turn informs our targeting and messaging strategy:

The data was automatically clustered into five segments based on respondents’ psychographics and demographics

In conclusion, what do these results tell us? A few things stand out: firstly, many young voters are desperate to vote and we need to ensure that we get them over the line. Removing barriers such as travel and transport, for example, are key to smoothing their path to the voting station. For those that have given up on the system, we need to demonstrate that their vote truly does count. They need to see service delivery in action, and they need to be presented with options that shatter the status quo and give them hope. The many new entrants to the political sphere with their new messages together with the dynamics introduced by the advent of multi-party coalitions, might be just what is needed to shake up the old system. If communicated appropriately, these might be just what we need to bring wavering and lost voters back to the table… but it’s going to be an uphill battle.

If you’d like to learn more about the survey, or if you have your own questions that you’d like answered, please drop us an email.

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