20 Seats - the threshold for changing the DA's mind

DA could drop to 20 of 42 seats in the Western Cape Parliament, and why that’s a good thing.

Robert Duigan


Robert Duigan


May 20, 2024

20 Seats - the threshold for changing the DA's mind

Everyone knows what an unequivocal victory looks like. But for the Cape independence movement, which has only just started out in the party-political game, winning a majority is far from realistic expectations.

Even the trailblazers at the PA took 11 years to get to where they are now, and still sit in single figures at the polls. So what does a realistic victory look like for the movement?

Well, it’s about getting the DA to 20 seats or below in the Western Cape parliament. If you have loyalty to the DA, or merely want to keep pressure up on the ANC, by all means, vote DA at the national level. If you would like to see a referendum in the Western Cape, your options are Referendum Party (RP) or Freedom Front Plus (VF+) on the provincial ballot.

Understanding what 20 seats means in practice means looking at the numbers.

The method of seat allocation in the election is to calculate a ballot quota per seat, and allocate a seat to all parties for each multiple of the basic quota. The formula is to take the number of total valid votes, divide it by the number of seats plus one, shave off the fractions and add one to the result. 2 million votes, divided by 43, plus one, disregarding fractions, equals 46 512 votes to get a seat.

Based on the 2021 election results (53.8% of Ward ballot), it is estimated that the DA should currently hold about 22 seats. However, if their vote share drops to 51% in the 2024 elections, they are projected to secure only 21 seats, falling short of a majority in the 42-seat legislature. Even a slight dip to 52% would compel the DA to seek alliances with smaller parties like the RP or VF+ to maintain a governing majority.

The threshold for gaining a seat in the Western Cape legislature stands at 2.3% of the vote. In a potential best-case scenario, the RP and VF+ could each secure two seats, while the DA might end up with 20 seats, representing 47% of the vote. This coalition could collectively control 24 out of the 42 seats, ensuring a functional majority.

In March, the DA polled at 53%, with a 4.4% margin of error. With their votes in decline, a reasonable estimate would put them below 53%, perhaps as low as 50% or 51%.

This could realistically place them at 21 seats, exactly half the legislature, and leaves them open to using the ACDP, who occupy a seat themselves, as a coalition partner. The ACDP don’t have any particularly strong policy demands or clear positions on economic or social policy that could sway the DA in any particular direction, and would make for a safe partner.

What this means, is that the movement needs to push the DA down to 20 seats so they need the VF+ and RP seats. Only then will the DA be forced to call a referendum on Cape Independence.

The RP has set an ambitious target of securing 100,000 votes, with a strategy of taking most of those votes away from the DA. The RP website reads: "Our goal is to convince 100,000 DA voters to vote RP in 2024. Vote RP to keep a DA Government and secure a Referendum!"

Since 2016, the DA's grip on the Western Cape has been loosening. Election data from 2016 to 2021 depict a clear trajectory of diminishing support. Projections for the 2024 elections suggest that this trend will continue, potentially leading to a significant loss of their majority. The DA faces mounting pressure not only from the Patriotic Alliance (PA) but also from pro-referendum parties like the Referendum Party and the Freedom Front Plus.

It's highly unlikely that the DA will have majority support in the 2026 election, and with the Western Cape's changing demographics and growing EFF support it's almost certain that the DA will have less than 50% of the vote in 2029.

This graph was drawn from the DA's own data, available here

The PA may do some of the work, though about 3/4 to 4/5 of their new votes appear to be coming from the ANC, if the byelections are anything to go by. This means they will likely only shave off another 1-2% by themselves. The NCC received 1.8% of the vote in 2021 and their growing support could also impact the DA.

It's worth noting that in 2020, the Western Cape parliament passed a motion advocating for an increase in the number of legislative seats from 42 to approximately 60. However, this proposal stalled due to financial constraints imposed by the central government, which stipulated that the province would need to cover the additional costs.

With the remainder of coalition options including the ANC, the EFF, and ANC enablers in the PA, the DA can only afford to make a deal with the secessionists or the ANC.

With that choice before them, the DA will have to risk a referendum by reaching out to either the RP or VF Plus, who are in a coalition pact, and come as a package deal.

While national opinion polls tend to underestimate the ANC by a few percentage points, usually two to three, there is little information on the past relationship between opinion polls and electoral outcomes in the Western Cape by itself.

This means that we only have the Social Research Foundation’s work to go on for the time being, and if their estimates are anything to go by, the RP and VF will have a bit of work cut out for them.

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