Voting patterns among young South Africans

In the 2011 Local Government Elections, the youth voter (18 to19 and 20 to 29) turnout stood at 69 % and 48% respectively. These numbers indicate a significantly low participation rate when registration numbers and the actual turnout are viewed in comparison.

Busisiwe Khaba, a political science lecturer at Monash South Africa and political analyst, says that youth participation in any election is important. The strength of the youth as potential members of the electorate lies in the fact that they form 36.2% of the overall South African population. According to the Independent Electoral Commission’s certified voter’s roll – as at 31 May 2016 – the age groups from 18 to 19 years, and 20 to 29 years constitute 1.92% and 21.94% of the electorate respectively. Furthermore, both age groups have more women registered to vote than man.

A study released in 2016 by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) reveals that voter registration levels among young people in the country from the ages 18 to 19 stood at 33% compared to a notably higher 64% in the age group 20 to 29. A major difference in voter registration levels between the two age groups reveals increased rates of participation from young people whose ages make them more likely to be enrolled at institutions of higher learning.

Khaba argues that this direct interest in national politics has become evident through active participation in protests and the disruption of operations at higher learning institutions.

“I’m of the view that one political party, the EFF, is or was able to fill the vacuum left open by the governing party regarding mobilising the youth. All along, before there was EFF, higher education institutions were populated by the ANC-affiliated SASCO and this has radically changed with the birth of EFF,” she says.

Furthermore, Khaba says that there is seemingly a large discontentment amongst young people in SA. “This can be seen in how so-called ‘born frees’ react to campaigning that appeals to gratitude towards parties that played a role in the struggle against apartheid,” she explains, “They did not have a direct experience of the apartheid era, so this actually challenges political parties to look beyond the struggle credentials narrative into the current state of affairs.”

The study by ISS furthermore says that the factors influencing the action to vote once registration has occurred vary in nature; this may be attributed to the role played by certain socio-economic contexts.

The narratives of the respondents reveal that although young people acknowledge the significance of voting, they do not identify it as the best way to bring about tangible change in their communities.

The study identified the following as factors influencing who young people would be willing to vote for: leaders who are not corrupt; leaders with whom they can identify; and leaders whom they admire. Low levels of trust in government and the limitations of current South African politics were perceived as factors deterring young people from voting.

By Tshimologo Maputla and Zandile Myeza


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