The silent majority did not vote! Comparing population estimates with the voter roll

Over 15 million potentially eligible voters did not cast their vote in the recent local government elections. This analysis compares the mid-year population estimates with the voters role.
A development worker in Cape Town pointed out that there was a significant gap between the potential number of voters, and those on the voter’s role. It piqued my interest, and I asked a couple more community activists about this. They all confirmed the view that in their areas, the level of voter registration was low. Could this view from the ground be correct? The proposition is that they may exist – in the words of one of the community workers – “an excluded majority” not even on the voters roll. To explore this question, we have compared the voters roll with population estimates.
In sum, this exploration seeks to find out what proportion of the population are on the voter’s roll. In undertaking this analysis, only official data has been utilised. These are:

  • Indepedent Electoral Commission (IEC) reports on voter turnout by province were generated using the IEC’s report generator;
  • Statistics South Africa’s Mid-Year Population Estimates (2010). The cut-off point in the data is at 20, which means that potential voters between 18 and 20 are not counted in these results. Including 18-20 year olds in the analysis would potentially increase the size of the so-called “silent majority”.

The results of the analysis show that when comparing the voters roll to the population in South Africa over 21 years of age, there are

  • Over 5 million potential voters are not on the voter’s roll.
  • When combined with registered voters that did not vote, over 15 million potential voters did not make their mark in the local government elections.
  • The implication is that the potential voter turnout was less than 50% (about 46%) compared to the 57,8% reported by the IEC, as shown in the graph below.

Official voter turnout vs. turnout of potential voters

It raises questions about inclusion and exclusion that I will discuss in a follow-up article on SACSIS. For now, the data is summarised below. Subscribers to Zapreneur can download the Spreadsheet on which this analysis is based. A summary table is provided below.
ProvinceRegistered VotersVoters in 2011 municipal electionsVoter turnout as % of registered votersRegistered but did not votePopulation over 20Voter Turnout as % of over 20 population)Total potential voters that did not vote (Adds together potential voters that are not on the voters roll with registered voters that did not vote)
Eastern Cape3111535181380258.31297733369404549.11880243
Free State138652176732155.3619200170514745937826
North West157689884509353.6731805185501445.61009921
Northern Cape57214036336163.520877966354654.8300185
Western Cape2706736174820864.6958528322612154.21477913
SourceIECIECIECStatistic South Africa


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