The Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) released the Afro-barometer survey on Zimbabwe on 10 July 2023.
Reader, the survey is not all rosy for the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC)’s electoral prospects in the general election scheduled for 23 August 2023.
There is off course a paradox in the Afro-barometer research as I unpack later.
However, my view is that it is time for the CCC to collectively reflect and put all boots on the ground in order to turn the tide. This is a better approach because even if the survey turns out not to be a true reflection of political dynamics on the ground, the CCC would have increased its margin of victory come 23 August. In short, they would have lost nothing.
An easier and self-soothing approach would be to bury one’s head in the sand and continue with business as usual. This is dangerous because if the survey turns to be a true reflection of political dynamics on the ground, the CCC would have done nothing and lost everything with no room for correction till the 2028 general election.
Reader, in a turn of voting trends, the survey shows a decline in support for the opposition and a surge in support for the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF).
If presidential elections were to be held a day after the survey, the CCC leader would lose to the ZANU PF leader. The survey signals that 27 % of respondents would vote for Chamisa against 35% for Mnangagwa. This means that the CCC leader’s support base has decreased by 7 % since June 2022. This marks the first decline in Chamisa’s vote since he became leader of the opposition. When Chamisa took over from Tsvangirai, only 16% freely expressed intentions to vote for him but this had exponentially gone up to 33% by June 2022. Also of significance is that Chamisa’s vote used to be far ahead of his party but the gap has closed to 1%.
On the other end, the survey shows that Mnangagwa’s support base has increased by 2% since June 2022. Reader, this turns the tide because there has been a systematic pattern in the decline of Mnangagwa’s vote since he took over from Mugabe in a military coup. At least 38 % of surveyed citizens expressed intentions to vote for him in 2017 and by June 2022 this had dramatically gone down to 30%.
Of interest is that Mnangagwa’s vote used to be far below that of his party [ZANU PF] but there is now some equalisation. This, as it stands, might signal a reduction in deviation politics i.e. bhora musango.
However, a significant number of respondents, 26% and 27%, refused to reveal their preferences for the parliamentary and presidential elections respectively.
This is not surprising in a repressive environment. Opposition supporters are more likely to fear expressing their political affiliation compared to ruling party members in authoritarian contexts.
Nevertheless, it is not a given that all those who refused to say their preference would vote for the CCC unless they tell us so. The good news for CCC though is that this base of potential voters is huge enough to swing the vote in their favour and win both at parliamentary and presidential level, that is if they do the right things and the environment becomes relatively free and fair.
Reader, ZANU PF and Mnangagwa’s lead partly remains a paradox though because the survey shows that most people are not happy. A majority of respondents (65%) say the country is going in the wrong direction; a large majority (69%) say the economy is bad and 62% say the living conditions are bad and this constitutes an equal proportion from both the urban and rural areas.
An overwhelming majority (85%) say the government has performed badly in addressing key issues such as unemployment, corruption, the economy and managing the economy.
Why then would the same people still vote for a failing government and not for the opposition? I can deduct four broad answers from the survey results.
First is that some people do not believe that an election under the current authoritarian environment can result in a change of government. From the survey, a majority, 54% of respondents, do not believe that an election can remove the badly performing ZANU PF leaders.
Second, a significant number, 49% of respondents, believe the announced results will not reflect the counted votes. It reminds me of Joseph Stalin’s attributed statement that ‘It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes’.
Third, about six in 10 (59%) fear that they will become victims of political violence during elections. Consequently, some people vote to ensure ‘peace’ in communities given that 50% of respondents said past elections have led to violence in their neighbourhood.
This shows us that without the needed political and democratising reforms, citizens can see elections as a mere ritual that fail to express the people’s will.
Fourth, the bad performance by ZANU PF does not automatically lead to the transfer of votes to CCC. The CCC has to convince the electorate that it has better socio-economic policies, a more democratic culture and the stamina to govern.
Reader, rehashing ZANU PF’s naked failures is not enough. For now, I have stated my case and it is up to the CCC to unleash a robust and tectonic institutional response on the ground.