Election campaigns 2024: MK, IFP, ANC just dipping into each other’s support – AI & Big Data needed to pull unregistered voters…

With only months to go until South Africa’s national elections, the campaigns run by political parties are not “igniting” the youth enough to bring unregistered voters to the polls. So says Glen Mpani, the host of the first International PolCampaigns Expo held in Cape Town recently.  He says MK, the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) and the ANC (African National Congress) are just “dipping” into each others’ support, but not activating those unwilling to vote. He hopes that the smaller parties like BOSA (Build One South Africa) Rise Mzansi and ActionSA will be able to “find the magic” and be the “game changers”. Mpani describes how AI and big data can be used to run political campaigns more effectively – and lists the ways in which the threat of disinformation can be countered.

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:31 – What are the objectives of the Expo?
  • 04:46 – How can a AI and big data be used to shape political campaigns?
  • 08:05 – Technological developments – threat to voters
  • 09:29 – What tools can be given to ordinary voters
  • 10:36 – Expo recommendations
  • 12:59 – Who are you partnering with internationally?
  • 14:19 – Opinion on who is running the campaign
  • 17:01 – MK is taking South Africans by storm
  • 18:00 – What will the magic be?
  • 18:30 – Conclusion

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Highlights from the interview ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The campaigns being run by South African parties:

“To be honest with you, all political parties have not upped their game in terms of running good campaigns. They are all confined to the same methods of running rallies. And rallies are not the best tool. They are necessary, but insufficient. Because a person who goes to a rally, you don’t know whether they are registered or not, you don’t know whether they are supporters or not. So they’re shooting in the dark. So I’m not impressed with that method.

“Secondly, what doesn’t impress me is that an election is the voter registration process. I would have expected that all the political parties would have worked very hard by targeting voters so that we increase the number of registered voters. You agree with me that once the number of registered voters is lower, like for example in this process in SA, there was 1.4 million people who registered, data shows us that when the registration is lower, it favours the incumbent. 

“So the reality that we currently have is that we are not going to have an election that is similar to 1994. We are just going to have a usual election. And my projection is that I don’t think turnout is going to be very high. So we really need to do a lot of work in terms of assisting our political parties, in terms of innovating their methods. 

“I have not yet seen a party that has ignited the youth for them to be more and more attracted to going out and vote. 

“But because we don’t have data, we need to really look at what the so-called smaller and nascent party….The tendency generally is to say, are they going to perform or not? But we don’t know what the tactics that they are using. They might be angling for the registered voter who has not been voting and they want to bring them to the polls. So while we might be focusing on the large rallies and all that, we really need to look at these small parties that have just come in that are a year or a year older. These could potentially be a game changer in this election, particularly with the electoral system.”

Read more: Daily poll updates confirms Zuma’s MK is election’24 gamechanger

MK, the party of former president Jacob Zuma & the smaller parties:

“So the MK, it’s making noise, but the parties that it’s going to most likely damage is the ANC and the IFP. So they are the same supporters that they’re dipping into each other, but they are not activating those who are unwilling to vote. Those between the 12 million and the 26 million that have not been participating, that is where we need to draw those to participate.

“And I’m hoping that political parties like BOSA, RizeMzansi, ActionSA, they can be able to find that magic that can be able to get those people who are registered and unwilling for them to come to the polls. 

“And if you look at the numbers, anyone who is able to get between the 12 million and the 27.4 million people in between can actually make a difference in terms of their numbers in the next polls.”

The security risk of low voter turn-out: 

“…it is very, very unfortunate for us to have governments who are elected by a minority. and a majority don’t go out to vote. I think there’s a problem. South Africa currently has 62 million people in terms of population. It has about 42 eligible voters. But there are 27.4 million people registered. And of those 27.4 million registered, in the last local government election, we had 12.6 million people participating. There lies your problem. The problem is you have less people participating in elections. You have people who are registered and willing to participate. And you have people who are not even registered. And that is a security risk to a country, both politically and economically.”

The aims of the PolCampaign Expo:

“…unfortunately, as citizens are no longer interested in participating in politics, there is now a slowly growing number of citizens who are accommodating unconstitutional removal of governments as a solution to fixing their problems. And therefore, as we say to ourselves, we need to restore the confidence of citizens in participating in elections…

“The expo is meant to revitalize confidence in elections, assist politicians who are used to traditional methods of campaigning, rallies, whistles, talks and posters for them to be able to come up with innovative ways. 

“So…we said, let’s try and teach them the use of AI as a potential tool to run in political campaigns.

“I think the magic is understanding what the voter wants. The fact that I am registered and I am unwilling, it means there is something that you are not saying. It means there is a method that you are not reaching out to me for me to be able to vote…data matters. So the analysis of the data in terms of what these voters want, how they need to be communicated, will provide the magic want for these political parties to be able to draw these people to the polls.”

How technological development can be a threat to voter behaviour: 

“So while we are celebrating the opportunity of AI, we also see the risk, and the major risk…is disinformation…if it gets into the hands of irresponsible people, they can be able to erode the integrity and confidence of people in an electoral process. 

“…we now need to rely on big tech companies in imposing themselves self-regulation and abiding some protocol on good practices of ensuring that these tools are not abused…we need a certain level of control from political parties, from election management bodies. 

“When there is fake information, when there is abuse of the platform, they immediately deal with that. Political parties also need to have a heavy penalty and responsibility. Once they are peddling falsehood, they also need to be placed in a position where they know that this is irresponsible. 

“But it’s very difficult to do that in an election where power is at stake. So you’ll find that these issues are going to be problematic and we are going to see more and more problems in elections that we are holding this year.”

Read the final report of the International PolCampaigns Expo here:

On Friday last week (February 16, 2024) at the Munich Security Conference (MSC), leading technology companies pledged to help prevent deceptive AI content from interfering with this year’s global elections in which more than four billion people in over 40 countries will vote. The 20 leading technology companies include  Adobe, Amazon, Google, IBM, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, TikTok, and X.


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