Opinion polls cannot be trusted. If pollsters were accurate, the world wouldn’t have been surprised when a majority of British people decided to quit the European Union, or when the Conservative Party won the 2015 UK general election.
Similarly, Donald Trump was given no chance by pollsters when the US presidential primaries began. Now he’s ahead of Hillary Clinton, according to some surveys. Polls can be spectacularly wrong. They should often be dismissed with former British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli’s quip about “lies, damned lies and statistics”.
Truth is, people manipulate data. Contrary to popular wisdom, facts and figures don’t speak for themselves. Never. They are shaped to fit viewpoints. Here at home, I wonder what has overcome research giant Ipsos.
Traditionally, their surveys underestimated DA support. For this reason, it has been puzzling to see them put the DA ahead of the ANC in major metros in recent months. No doubt, Ipsos was using different methods, samples, or whatever.
The rosy fortunes of the DA seemed too good to be true. That is why, despite the propaganda advantages to be had from publicising positive results, the DA did not go overboard. Just as well. This week, without adequate explanation, Ipsos reverted to its previous mode, putting the ANC ahead almost everywhere.
If there was no reason to believe them last month, Ipsos polls haven’t suddenly gained credibility. They will be wrong again. Johannesburg is the most interesting and important case.
On Thursday, Ipsos said the DA was ahead of the ANC by 36% to 32% in the city. By Monday, the positions were reversed, with the ANC ahead by 46% to 41%. What happened in between? In that short period, headlines were not dominated by any good news for the ANC.
The most prominent theme was race-baiting by President Jacob Zuma. Are we to assume ANC popularity is boosted when tainted leaders beat the racist drum? No. Nor would the ANC have benefited from various claims over how former presidents would vote today.
But all this is not so far from you as it may seem. For as long as there is a realistic chance of positive change in Johannesburg, there is hope for South Africa. This city, with a R56.4 billion budget, is the country’s engine room.
The sluggishness of the local economy, exacerbated by indifference, incompetence and cronyism, helps keep the national growth rate at an unhealthy 0%. If we carry on like this, the city and the country will slide further downhill. This idea of the city as South Africa’s engine room underlies the slogan, “If Johannesburg works, South Africa works.”
Conversely, if Johannesburg fails, the negative trend will prevail across the country. Things must change for the better. You can help make history, turn around the good ship South Africa, by choosing wisely in the privacy of a voting booth today.