WITH the 2014 national and provincial elections looming, many analysts have already predicted how the various parties will perform. Most have argued (or best-guessed) that support for the African National Congress (ANC) will decline. However, one scenario not yet properly contemplated is that support for the ANC will grow, and that it could once again achieve a two-thirds majority. Here is how that would play out.

In the 2009 election, the ANC secured 65.9% of the vote. The trend among analysts has been to argue that the party’s declining performance in government and increasing internal division — coupled with increased support for the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the advent of new parties such as Agang SA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) — will see its share of the vote drop.

But even those predictions fluctuate widely. Global research company Nomura has argued that "the ANC should drop from 65.9% in 2009 down to around 56.2% as voters turn principally to the DA, EFF and Agang". Stephen Grootes, in his book SA Politics Unspun, says the ANC will get 61%, which he has explained elsewhere as the consequence of a growing black middle class, division, apathy and because the party’s "liberation dividend" is "not as strong as it once was".

Analyst Nic Borain cleverly covered almost every eventuality by arguing that in the "worst-case scenario", the ANC will get 65% and in the "best-case scenario" 59%, before identifying a "third case" (presumably a "very worst case"), in which it could get 51%. Pushed for something more concrete, he pegged his final guess at 58%. So take your pick.

Numerous others have repeated in numerous other places this prediction pattern. Whatever the extent of the ANC’s projected decline, almost everyone seems to agree that is what will happen. But they ignore a crucial factor: the decline of two parties with significant electoral support — the Congress of the People (COPE) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). What happens to their voters will have a telling effect on the ANC’s final percentage and, should a number of other supplementary factors work in the party’s favour, it could achieve a two-thirds majority.

In the 2009 election, COPE and the IFP finished third and fourth on the final ballot with 7.4% and 4.5%, respectively. Take a long-term view, however, and both are in decline. The IFP dropped from 7% in 2004 — in that period it lost 284,404 votes, or 26.1%, of its support. Although not directly comparable to a national election, in the 2011 local government elections it declined further still, down to 3.6%. COPE was newly formed in 2009, so there exists no 2004 comparison, but its 2011 result (2.2%) is so dire it is credible to suggest it is in considerable turmoil, and barring something remarkable that decline will be mirrored in 2014.

Here, then, are three possible scenarios, with regard the support for the IFP and COPE:

• First, and most unlikely, both run excellent campaigns and successfully shore up their declining support. Even if they did this, it is next to impossible for each to grow. An excellent result would be for each to retain its 2009 standing — a combined total of about 12% of the total national vote.

• Second, their national support declines, mirroring their showing in the 2011 local government elections (a combined total of just less than 6% of the national vote).

• Third, they collapse further still, each to about 2% (perhaps even lower), for a combined total of just 4% of the national vote.

Scenarios two and three — and any variant on them — are the most likely, given the historical decline and current malaise seen in COPE and the IFP. That would mean, between them, that 6%-8% of voters who were aligned to either party in 2009 will be available to other parties in 2014. Whether the ANC manages to capture them will go some way to determining its final standing.

Certainly the ANC would be the first port of call for most of these voters. COPE, essentially a breakaway party from the ANC, has been unable to protect many in its ranks from being lured back into the ANC’s fold. Likewise, the IFP’s decline in KwaZulu-Natal has been at the ANC’s hands. There the ANC grew from 47% in 2004 to 63% in 2009 while the IFP shrank from 37% to 22%. The rest of the opposition would be hard pressed to replace the ANC as the first-choice alternative for disgruntled COPE and IFP supporters.

The main competition would be the DA, EFF and Agang, although the EFF would appear too radical an option for most COPE supporters who regard themselves as moderate. But, even if these parties were to secure a portion of those 6%-8% of voters, the majority would still go to the ANC.

So it becomes a balancing sum: will the amount of support the ANC sheds on the outer limits to the DA, EFF and Agang be countered by the support it will win from COPE and the IFP? With such a large number of supporters available to it from those two parties, it is possible it will retain its 2009 level of support, or grow.

Again, there is a caveat. The DA and EFF (less likely Agang, which is next to nowhere on the political scene) might run excellent campaigns and do significant damage to the ANC’s support. For the DA to achieve its 30% target, it would have to take a significant amount of ANC support and, with it, support from COPE. That would lessen the likelihood of the ANC growing (even 25% for the DA would mean an almost guaranteed ANC decline). In turn, the EFF could make disproportionate inroads into ANC support, but again, on the margins, enough to significantly retard ANC growth.

Finally, supplementing all of this is turnout. In local government elections the ANC’s support suffers because smaller parties manage a differential turnout in their favour. But, in national elections, the ANC manages to turn out its supporters at the same level as the opposition, if not in greater numbers, thereby naturally increasing its support. It is hard to instil enthusiasm among disgruntled voters, though, so that would be the final challenge for the party on this front.

It all boils down to momentum — which party can generate it, which party can protect its support against it and which can best capitalise on it. But it is possible, despite all the doom and gloom that political analysts have predicted for the ANC, that it will do this better than the rest when it comes to those 6%-8% of unhappy COPE and IFP supporters. Certainly it is best placed historically to have first bite at them.

If the ANC is able to protect against significant losses to the DA, EFF and Agang while decimating the support of COPE and the IFP, 66% is on the table. It would, however, require a focused and effective ANC campaign and an end to the political bloodletting that has defined the Zuma years, but elections can powerfully unify any political party.

In the final analysis, this is just a possible scenario. For all the fuss that constitutes a three-month election campaign, it usually boils down to the last two weeks, when the ANC traditionally produces a massive squeeze campaign on the smaller parties (and, the DA, in turn, one on its competition). How parties — the DA in particular — survive that period will go a significant way to determining the outcome of the election. Historically this squeeze has worked in the ANC’s favour, but its current weaknesses might lead to a diluted ability to make that squeeze effective. If it is ineffective, it will mean growth for the DA and some support for the EFF and Agang.

If the opposite happens, it will be nothing short of remarkable given the ANC’s many and varied woes, but even the fact that it is a possibility is a lesson to all and sundry about the extent of the monopoly the ANC maintains on South Africa’s electoral economy. Many in the media project their own dissatisfaction with the ANC onto the market they are analysing. That is a mistake, and the decline of COPE and the IFP are a blind spot in their analysis as a result. At the very least, this is a scenario worth considering.