South Africa's Election Proves Polls Right, "Race War" Theorists Wrong

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 8 2014 10:58 AM

South Africa's Election Proves Polls Right, "Race War" Theorists Wrong

After Nelson Mandela died, I engaged in some high-speed eye-rolling about some fears of a coming South African "race war." The Daily Mail, on location, warned international readers of the kahi'd race-populism of Julius Malema. According to the paper, six months ago, "polls this week showed a huge surge in support among young black South Africans for his policies."

The polls actually showed Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters Party at 4 percent. Polls closed yesterday, and with more than half the vote counted, the EFF ended up surging to... 5 percent. Actually, the whole election was an endorsement of polling accuracy over narrative. The ruling African National Congress had spent the past five years rolling from scandal to scandal, and struggling on the economy, as foreign currencies (the dollar for example) weakened the rand. Pundits asked whether the ANC would suffer at the polls, and noted how poorly President Jacob Zuma was received at Mandela's funeral. There was even a whiff of U.S.-style "crowdsmanship," after the final ANC mega-rally ended with a lot of empty seats.

But the final polls suggested that the ANC would walk back into power with maybe only a slight decline from its 66 percent vote share of 2009. And it's doing so, currently winning 63 percent of the vote. The more multi-racial Democratic Alliance has won its best-ever result, which is only a slight improvement on five years ago -- they continue to run the Western Cape and nothing else. Data journalism: It works.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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