The elections are upon us and this is arguably the hottest contested election in South Africa this side of 1994. The 7 May elections are also among the few in the world and certainly in Africa, with new parties making as huge an impact on both the ruling party and the opposition as possible. These are also interesting times where the new age is catching up with everything we do and the social networks have a lot to say about how we are communicating. Nothing can be closer to the truth especially in a country like South Africa which boasts a highly developed technological system. Having said that, it is important to sit back and acknowledge the impact that the social networks like Facebook and Twitter have on our communication and the dissemination of information. We look here at how popular the different parties are on Facebook and Twitter and how this can be inferred to the popularity they will have come Election Day.
Table 1 shows the number of fans the top four most popular SA political parties had on Facebook on the 16th of November 2013 and on the 12th of April 2014. The last three columns show the number of new fans, the growth rate and the percentage growth the parties experienced over the past five months.
Last year, on the 16th of November, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was the most popular party on Facebook, with 56 769 fans. It was followed by the Democratic Alliance (DA), which had 42 243 fans. The African National Congress (ANC) and Agang SA had 30 343 and 29 158 fans respectively. Over the past five months, the numbers have changed significantly.
Table 1. The Top Four Most Popular South African Political Parties on Facebook
|Party||Number of likes||New likes||Growth rate (Number of new likes per month)||% Growth (New likes/Nov. 2013 likes) × 100|
| 16 November 2013
||12 April 2014|
|ANC||30 343||116 742||86 399||17 280||284.74|
|DA||42 243||84 344||42 101||8 420||99.66|
|EFF||56 769||80 719||23 950||4 790||42.19|
|Agang SA||29 158||35 287||6 129||1 226||21.02|
Table 1 illustrates that the most popular party is the ruling party, the ANC at 116 742 fans on its Facebook page. It can also be noted that at the beginning of the period of comparison, the ANC had fewer fans that the EFF and DA.
The second most popular party as far as Facebook is concerned is the Democratic Alliance, with 84 344 likes. They are followed by the EFF, which is 3 625 likes behind. Coming at the end of the comparison is the new Agang SA, with 35 287 likes.
While there is a story being told by the above figures, it would be an injustice to leave it at this as it is only half of the story. A look at the percentage growth will show a different story that screams for attention. The ruling party appears to have made a huge leapfrog compared to the other parties. An increase of 284.74% means that the party has more than tripled their likes on Facebook. The DA is second in the increase that it has achieved. In the period under consideration they have doubled their support in terms of Facebook likes. The new EFF, not to be outdone, has posted an increase of 42.19% of its original likes while the equally new Agang SA has 21.02% new additions to their likes.
It is also pertinent to look at the growth rate of each party based on the number of new likes in the period under consideration (five months). A few likes shy of the twenty thousand mark is where the ANC stands when the number of new likes per month is calculated. Over the past five months, 17 280 new people per month liked the ruling party’s Facebook page, making the ANC the fastest growing party on Facebook. The DA comes second, with 8 420 new likes every month. The EFF is third in this comparison as it boasts close to five thousand new likes every month, with Dr Ramphele’s new party bringing up the rear with an addition of 1 226 new likes per month.
On Twitter, the DA experienced the highest percentage growth (63.53%), as shown in Table 2. The EFF grew by 44.78%. However, this is because these parties had fewer followers than the ANC in November last year. The growth rate shows that the ruling party had the highest number of new followers per month (6 132). Close behind the ANC is the DA, whose Twitter page grew by 5 633 followers per month over the past five months. The EFF and Agang SA had 2 516 and 1 628 new followers per month respectively.
Table 2. The Top Four Most Popular South African Political Parties on Twitter
|Party||Number of Followers||New Followers||Growth rate (Number of new followers per month)||% Growth (New followers/Nov. 2013 followers) × 100|
|16 November 2013||12 April 2014|
|ANC||81 043||111 701|| 30 658
|DA||44 330||72 495|| 28 165
|| 5 633
|EFF||28 090||40 668|| 12 578
|Agang SA||36 673||44 813||8 140||1 628||22.20|
Nonetheless, how old the Facebook and Twitter pages of the four political parties under comparison is unknown. However, the pages were not created at the same time. Some are much older than others. Therefore, it would be unfair to assess a party’s relative popularity using the total number of Facebook likes or Twitter followers it has. A more accurate statistic for comparison of popularity is the growth rate as it compares the pages over the same period of time.
EFF currently gets 2 516 Twitter followers a month, meaning that it is growing faster than Agang SA, which gets 1 628 new followers a month. However, since Agang SA created its Twitter page several months before EFF, it currently has more followers (44 813) than EFF (40 668). In a few weeks’ time, if the growth rate doesn’t change, EFF will overtake Agang SA in Twitter popularity. Therefore, according to the growth rates observed on Facebook and Twitter, it can be deduced that EFF is more popular than Agang SA, making it the third most popular South African political party after the DA and the ANC.
It is very well and good to compare these numbers and even more for the same parties as well as for many others in this democracy of ours. The bottom line, however, is what this all means, if anything. Can this help us in any way to say with any degree of surety what will happen come the seventh of May? It is critical for the reader to note from the outset that this is a comparison of LIKES on Facebook and followers on Twitter and not of any voters forum. An important point to note here is that not all people on Facebook/Twitter are registered voters and that not all registered voters use these social networks. It is also possible to like more than one page for anyone which is definitely not allowed during the voting process. Having said all that, the above information allows us to make conclusions and deductions about the upcoming election.
The ANC seems to be experiencing resurgence in its support as evidenced by the sudden and rapid increase in the number of its supporters in the last few months. This could mean that those dormant party supporters, having noticed an increase in the opposition, have woken up, as it were, to rally behind their party. This can also be interpreted to mean that there are more people who are visiting the Facebook/Twitter pages of the ANC to observe whatever activity is there. The putting up of the election manifesto could explain that traffic as well as any other activity.
However, the most important factor is that they are in the lead at this critical moment in this most critical election since the advent of democracy. Julius Malema’s EFF, the new kids on South Africa’s political block, having made such giant waves as to amass over eighty thousand Facebook likes in the less than a year it has been in existence. While a lot can be said about the slower growth rate it is experiencing at the moment, not much needs to be read into this. Just that they have managed to amass as many likes as a party as old as the DA is quite an achievement in itself. The DA on the other hand, despite being an old party, has experienced a huge increase in the number of likes/followers to their Facebook and Twitter pages. Again this could be the old showing their mantle and digging deep to that they still have a lot of character. The fact that, despite the novelty of the other two parties, they have managed to keep their heads above the water is evidence of this character.
Another new kid on the block that is also making waves, albeit of a smaller size, is Agang SA. They have managed to post significant increase in their Facebook likes and Twitter followers, even more than older parties that have not been considered in this discussion (COPE, IFP, PAC, UDM, etc). This is evidence of hard work and promises a huge contribution to the South African democracy as do all the other parties that will be contesting this election whether they have been mentioned here or not.