The 2014 general elections are a few months away and political parties that will be contesting have started campaigning. The increase in the number of people who have access to the internet over the past few years has made social networks valuable tools for politicians to conduct their campaigns.
According to statistics, over 12 million South Africans have access to the internet. Recent reports revealed that 9.4 million and 5.5 million South Africans use Facebook and Twitter respectively. Out of curiosity, we conducted a survey to see which South African political parties are the most popular on the two major social networks. Although millions of voters do not use Facebook and Twitter, it is possible to measure the overall popularity of each political party from a small sample of internet users and foresee which parties are most likely to dominate the elections next year.
In September 2013, Julius Malema’s EFF was reported to be the fastest growing political party in South Africa. It had the highest number of Facebook Likes (46 269) and its then three-month-old Twitter page had 23 578 followers. In the current survey we used September numbers as baseline to calculate the growth rate of the top six political parties on Facebook and Twitter. Although EFF still has the highest number of Facebook Likes, according to the numbers, from September to November, the fastest growing political party appears to be the Democratic Alliance, followed by EFF (see Table 1 and Table 2 below).
From September to November, 11 365 new people liked the DA’s Facebook page, taking the total number of likes from 30 878 to 42 243, a growth rate of 36.81%. EFF’s page grew at a rate of 22.69%. It had 10 500 new likes over the past two months. Although the DA’s page grew at a faster rate than that of EFF, EFF is still the most popular political party on Facebook, with more than 56 769 likes. The ANC and Agang SA had 3 967 and 3 862 new likes respectively. They currently have 30 343 and 29 158 likes. Their growth rate was 15.05% and 15.27% respectively. Facebook likes and Twitter followers for COPE and IFP are too few. We cannot use them to draw statistically reliable conclusions. Therefore, they were excluded from the analysis.
Table 1. The growth rate of South African Political Parties on Facebook
|Party||Number of Likes||New Likes||Growth Rate (%)|
|EFF||46 269||56 769||10 500||22.69|
|DA||30 878||42 243||11 365||36.81|
|ANC||26 376||30 343||3 967||15.04|
|Agang SA||25 296||29 158||3 862||15.27|
|COPE||1 892||2056||164||8.67 (excluded)|
On Twitter, the ANC dominates. It has 81 043 followers. It had 10 418 new followers from September to November. The DA is at the second position with 44 330 followers. At position 3 is Agang SA, which has 36 673 followers. EFF is at the fourth position with 28 090 followers. The DA grew at a rate of 24.99%, followed by EFF, whose growth rate was 19.14%. The growth rates of the ANC and Agang SA were 14.75% and 11.72% respectively.
Table 2. The growth rate of South African Political Parties on Twitter
|Party||Followers||New Followers||Growth Rate (%)|
|ANC||70 625||81 043||10 418||14.75|
|DA||35 468||44 330||8 862||24.99|
|Agang SA||32 827||36 673||3 846||11.72|
|EFF||23 578||28 090||4 512||19.14|
Clearly, opposition parties, particularly the DA and EFF are gaining popularity at a faster rate than the governing party (ANC). EFF and Agang SA, which were founded this year, have become significantly more popular than COPE and IFP. If the numbers of votes next year follow the same pattern that we see on social networks, the ANC will lose a large proportion of votes to the DA, EFF and Agang SA. COPE and IFP will no longer be part of the big four political parties of South Africa.
Nonetheless, since some political parties target highly disadvantaged areas where people have no access to the internet, and some of the users of social networks may not be registered to vote, it is hard to accurately predict the outcomes of next year’s elections. The numbers of votes may deviate from our expectations. However, it is also possible for the above pattern to hold true among those who are registered to vote.