Voting intentions in Zimbabwe: A margin of terror?

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Zimbabwe will soon hold presidential and parliamentary elections, bringing to an end the ‘power-sharing’ arrangement that has governed the country since flawed polls in 2008. The country’s future will depend on what Zimbabweans think about the performance of the main political parties, and who they plan to vote for. In an Afrobarometer briefing, Michael Bratton and Eldred Masunungure explore voting intentions of Zimbabweans gathered from the latest Afrobarometer (AB) survey of July 2012. Here Nicholas Kerr, a doctoral candidate at Michigan State University, summarizes their main findings.

The Afrobarometer survey is based on a sample of 2,400 cases and a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. In response to a question asked in July 2012 about voting intentions “if a presidential election were held tomorrow,” survey respondents placed the two major parties in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change -Tsvangirai (MDC-T) in a statistical dead heat. Specifically, ZANU-PF would garner 32 percent of the vote and MDC-T would receive 31 percent, while 22 percent refused to reveal their voting intentions. This result represents a shift in the fortunes of both parties. For example, when compared to the previous Afrobarometer survey conducted in May 2009, MDC-T would have secured 57 percent of the vote relative to 24 percent for ZANU-PF if elections had been held at that time.

The analysis further suggests that in 2012 Zimbabwean voters make voting decisions on the basis of both positive achievements of the Inclusive Government and negative sanctions of intimidation and violence. On one hand, ZANU-PF seems to derive benefit from recent government performance, and its focus on rebuilding its party machinery and mobilizing its political base. On the other hand, MDC-T has benefited less from the performance of the Inclusive Government, perhaps due to the party’s over-reliance on a strategy of expecting political credit for improved service delivery.

While many Zimbabweans admit they are politically fearful and express high expectations of victimization by violence during campaign periods, respondents in the survey seem able to overcome political fear. Where political fear seems to have the greatest effect on voting intentions is when people (incorrectly) perceive government sponsorship of the survey. Citizens with this perspective are more likely to say they support ZANU-PF when they do not.

The analysis proposes a method to account for the effect of perceived government sponsorship on those who refused to reveal their voting intentions (the “reticent”). Based on a simulation of the preferences of the reticent, the report concludes that 49 percent of all intended voters (abstainers excluded) would support the MDC-T compared to 45 percent for ZANU-PF. Other parties would garner 7 percent. Plainly stated, MDC-T would move slightly ahead of ZANU-PF in terms of voting intentions in July 2012. But this adjustment does not give any party a decisive edge. Any future election in Zimbabwe remains too close to call.

Click here to download the full briefing: Voting Intentions in Zimbabwe: A Margin of Terror?

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