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04 February 2009

Results of the 2008 voter participation survey, commissioned by the IEC

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

The Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) released the final Voter Participation Survey today at Gallager Convention Centre in Midrand ahead of the finale voter registration weekend of 7 and 8 February 2009.

The IEC commissioned the Centre for Socio-Economic Surveys of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) to conduct a study to investigate the state of the electoral process, including voting behaviour of South Africans and the ability and preparedness of the IEC to manage all aspects of elections.

When releasing the results of the survey, the Chair of the Electoral Commission, Dr Brigalia Bam, said “throughout the years we have undertaken various steps to keep in touch with voters and prospective voters through, among others, voter and democracy education campaigns and the use of a wide variety of media platforms, such as billboards, boards on train stations platforms, wall murals, taxi TV, television and radio. Another way of keeping pace with the expectations of the voters is to do systematic and scientific investigation on their needs, instead of working purely on untested perceptions and assumptions.”

The IEC works in partnership with a variety of stakeholders, including civil society organisations who conduct voter and balloting education to the general public. This survey will provide meaningful insights to these organisations in terms of what the real issues on the ground are, thereby informing them of the areas that require review and/or emphasis in their training to the target groups.

The results, as reported by Dr Mbithi wa Kivilu of the HSRC, have the following usefulness to the IEC and the public:

    •    Provides empirical evidence of strengths and weaknesses of the electoral process.
    •    Informs the conceptualisation and planning for the communication campaigns, the content and medium of providing voter education, as well as the selection of the ideal partners to collaborate with in communicating and preparing for the elections.
    •    Useful tool for supporting the IEC strategy and identifying the gaps that require review.
    •    Post-election tool for further analysis and investigation.
    •    Provides a situational analysis of the state of democracy in the country.
    •    Provides an agenda for democracy development in the country.

Research methodology

This survey covered a representative random sample of 4 000 respondents who were interviewed in all nine provinces across the country. It sought to inform the IEC on its preparations and readiness for the first voter registration in November 2008 and on the forthcoming one on the 7-8 February 2009.

The survey is composed of three components, namely a desktop review of existing literature on elections; a focus group discussion that targeted special groups (such as traditional leaders, the youth, and people with disabilities, among others); and a national survey of a representative sample of 4 000 South Africans, aged 18 years and above. The questionnaire was administered face-to-face to the selected respondents in their preferred language.

In ensuring that the data gathered was of high quality, a team of eleven field supervisors and 118 fieldworkers was trained and supervised by researchers from the HSRC. Check-backs of 10% of the questionnaires were conducted. Data was captured, cleaned programmatically and weighted to the target population of South Africans, aged 18 and above.

Key findings

Over 97% of those interviewed had a green, bar-coded South African identity document. However, 8% of the youth (those aged 18-24 years) did not have ID documents, but 97% of them intend applying for one.

Voter registration

Asked whether they were registered, 73% of those interviewed answered in the affirmative with Northern Cape (82%) and the Eastern Cape (81%) reporting the highest number of registered voters. About 89% were registered in the voting district they resided in. The lowest number of registrations was among the youth (18-24 years) (22%) and people with no income (58%).

The largest proportion of people (31%) was registered in 2004. The results indicate that more people were registered during years of the national and provincial elections than in the other years.

Did you find it easy to register?

The majority (97%) of those interviewed found it easy to register and received proof of registration. The most common duration of time taken to register was 5 – 10 minutes reported by 29%. About 16% took more than 30 minutes to register. The shortest times, “less than 5 minutes”, was reported in the Western Cape (29%) and among the coloureds (26%), while the longest, “over 30 minutes”, was reported in the North West (28%) among Africans (12%).

How interested are you in national and provincial elections?

About 79% were interested in the national and provincial elections with Gauteng and Limpopo registering the highest proportions while KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape had the least. Asked if they would vote if national and provincial elections were held tomorrow, 81% agreed. However, North West (73%) and KwaZulu-Natal (76%) had relatively lower figures than the other provinces.

The likelihood to vote increased with age. Whites were more likely to vote than any other race group. About 30% felt they would be encouraged to vote “if the queues were shorter” and “if they felt their vote would make a difference in the outcome of the elections”.

What would you do in the next elections if the party they voted for did not meet your expectations?

About 41% indicated that they would “give their party another chance” while 30% would “vote for another party”. If they felt they could not vote for the party of their choice, whites and Asians/Indians (50%) would vote for another party while Africans (48%) would abstain from voting.

Why vote?

Asked why they vote, 75% said because their vote makes a difference, while 81% felt it was their duty as citizens to vote.

When should voting take place?

Those interviewed were equally divided over when voting should take place, with 32% indicating either during a normal working day, a public holiday, or over a weekend.

Gender difference on perception about voting
There were gender differences on perception about voting. Asked who they would vote for, 32% of men, compared to 23% of women, said they would never vote for a woman. About 15% of men, compared to 26% of women indicated that women make better politicians than men. On whether women should get more involved in politics to help solve problems that concerned them, 69% of all respondents agreed. It was generally agreed by 84% that schools should play a leading role in educating the youth about elections.

Sufficiency of information

With regard to sufficiency of information, 53% had enough information about services provided by the IEC, while 60% had enough about how to vote. Two out of three people felt the timing of information about national and provincial elections should be a few weeks before the elections.

Performance of the IEC

Over 72% were pleased with the performance of the IEC during the previous elections and over 80% were satisfied with the most recent voting experience. Over 90% were satisfied with the service offered by the IEC officials in terms of language used, friendliness and efficiency. Generally the election procedures were considered free and fair by 89% of the respondents.

Voter education

Six out of ten people were aware of the IEC voter education campaigns/programmes with the lowers proportions in the Western Cape (42%), rural areas (42%) and the youth (44%).


“We will be happy to receive your comments and inputs on the findings of this survey, as well as your view on how to ensure an environment that is conducive to free and fair elections in this year’s elections,” said Dr Bam.

Dr Bam further encouraged South Africans who have not yet registered to do so over the coming weekend. Registered voters who have moved should also register in their new voting district.

For more information on registration and voting, there are the following options:

    •    Contact the IEC Call Centre toll free for a landline on 0800 11 8000. Cell phone users should note that their calls will be charged.
    •    Visit the IEC website at
    •    SMS your ID number to 32810.

Slide presentation of the IEC Voter Participation Survey:

Issued by the Independent Electoral Commission