This Is How We Vote!
In approximately six weeks, Zimbabweans go to the polls to vote for a President, Member of Parliament and Ward Councillor. Whilst recent poll surveys have focused on who is likely to win the elections, it remains unclear how voters actually come to make a decision on who to vote for. Is voting based on blind loyalty to the party one has voted for before? Others have indeed argued that citizens treat supporting a political party as the same as supporting a sporting team (like a football team), that is, their allegiance to the team (in this case the political party) has got nothing to do with performance-they are just loyal. One of the most notable trends among political parties vying for office in the forthcoming elections is an attempt to project themselves as ideas based, with the best solutions for Zimbabwe’s struggling economy and collapsing social service. However, it is not clear if the voting citizenry has been examining political parties to see who has the best ideas for the country’s turn around.
We therefore, saw the need to understand and explore how citizens use their five or minutes of fame during the casting of votes, asking ourselves how citizens arrive at a decision on who to vote for. We carried out an online survey which was distributed via our social media platforms, (Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter) and also over the instant chat platforms such as Whatsapp. A total sample of 284 responded to our survey, a sample considered representative of trends for a population of 5million votes with 95% confidence level and a 5% margin of error. The subsections below discuss the findings of the survey.
Status of Respondents
The majority of the respondents, 79.93%, were registered to vote, and of those registered to vote, 68.15% have voted before whilst the 32% would be first time voters.
It is important to note that there has been a significant increase in the number of registered voters by almost 40%. There a is demographic dividend for all parties especially given that the youngest voter was born in the year 2000 and all they have know is the context of the multifaceted crises which has rocked Zimbabwe since the turn of the century.
Decision Making About Political Party to Vote For
We asked respondents to explain the process they use to arrive at a decision on who to vote for. The question allowed for multiple responses varying from, decision is based on the leader, reading and comparing manifestos, rallies, news and also advice received from friends and family. The majority (83.3%) of the respondents confirmed that they look at the qualities of the leader of the political party.
The survey’s findings on this point serve to reinforce the importance of strong and credible leadership but also the danger that in politics, people may follow a person based on his or her charisma instead of the set of ideas that the same leader is addressing. The second largest influence on voting decisions was identified as reading and comparing manifestos. Approximately 42.1% of the respondents confirmed that they read and compared manifestos. We do not have previous data to compare with but this finding suggests the need for politicians to pay attention to how they address issues and the strategies they promote within their manifestos. The launching of political party manifestos has been somewhat dramatic in terms of the actual event itself and also, the debates thereafter. There seems to be a significant interest amongst the readers to read these manifesto documents no matter how long they are. When asked if they had read a manifesto before, the majority (67.91%) confirmed that they had done so. Upon further interrogation on whether they are using the party’s manifesto to make decisions, 52.2% confirmed that they had read their preferred political party’s manifesto before arriving at a decision on how they are going to vote. There is also a significant size of respondents (47.8%) who have not read a political party’s manifesto. Maybe it is also important to note that very few political parties have come up with popular versions of their manifestos. The documents that have so far been presented are very long and detailed and may be intimidating to others.
Issues to be addressed by political party manifestos
We asked respondents to identify issues the issues that they would want to see addressed by their preferred political party. The question allowed for multiple responses. The majority 94.04% identified Economic growth as an urgent issue that should be tackled followed by the creation of jobs.
The issues raised speak to the core challenges that the country is facing. There is a heightened expectation that the political party that wins the right to lead government should have the capacity to turn around the fortunes of the country. These expectations also resonate with the responses made in an earlier survey on the performance of the Transitional Government under President Mnangagwa. Citizens are still concerned about availability of cash (64.4%), jobs (73.3%), improved access to health (75.19%) improved access to education (62.96%) as they were back in February 2018.
Determination on who to Vote For
We decided against asking people who they were voting for but instead we were more interested in how people choose their leaders or political parties. We then asked the question if they had already decided on who they will vote for. Approximately 74.44% have made up their minds on who they will vote for whilst 25.56% indicated that they are yet to settle on who they will vote for. The proportion of undecided voters is quite high. It suggests that the final result will depend on how these undecided voters eventually vote. It also suggest that the field is still open for political parties to intensify their campaigns and woo these votes. It is also important to bear in mind that undecided voters will rarely be part of an election rally and thus there maybe need to find others ways of reaching out to them and address some of the issues they remain skeptical about.
Whilst it may be difficult to know who these undecided voters are, it maybe helpful to bear in mind that 1 out of every 4 registered voters has not made a decision on who whey will vote for. It is important to note the issues they have raised as pertinent such as the need for economic growth, increased availability of formal sector jobs. This cohort of voters is likely to be more analytical and sceptical and will not easily be swayed through campaign speeaches that do not clearly address issues of concern.
Confidence with the Electoral Process
We asked respondents if they are satisfied about the preparations being made to ensure that the elections are free and fair. The majority 72.49% are not convinced that the elections will be free and fair. Through a question that allowed for multiple response, we asked them why they think that the elections will not be free and fair. They cited many reasons as per figure below.
The majority 68.3% do not trust the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the agency responsible for running elections and there are some (56.79%) who feel there was need to carry out all outstanding electoral reforms before holding elections.
Zimbabwe is heading towards what looks like a destiny defining election. For the first time since independence Robert Gabriel Mugabe will not be the face of ZANU-PF and also for the first time since 2002, Morgan Tsvangirai will not be the face of the MDC. Both sides will be fielding new candidates. Our survey findings indicate that the electorate prioritizes the quality of the leader- we mostly have a line up of untested leaders, except maybe for the incumbent who has been in office for seven months.
However a dark cloud still hangs over these elections, with suspicions around the possibilities of rigging and meddling by the military, and the authorities at ZEC will need to carry out even more reforms to ensure that citizens trust their process. The respondents are also concerned about reports of the presence of military personel within the rural areas, while others are not convinced that the military will allow for a smooth transition if an opposition candidate was to win.
The choice of which party to vote for does not entirely depend on the leader. There is quite a significant number of respondents who have also indicated an interest in reading and comparing manifestos. They also compare notes with friends and family. Indeed there is increased chatter about political parties within social networking groups that are active on instant chat platforms.This is quite encouraging especially for us at SIVIO Institute, since we have been agitating for a mindset shift when it comes to making decisions on who to vote for. Instead of focusing on an individual’s attributes there is a need to move towards examining candidates on the basis of the set of ideas that they present. We hope to see more of this in the forthcoming elections and also into the future.