Zimbabweans Gloomy About the Economy, Cautiously Optimistic That Presidential Election Will Be a Step Forward

press release

Accra, Ghana — Zimbabweans are downbeat about economic conditions but cautiously hopeful that free and fair elections will restore political legitimacy and launch economic reforms, a new analysis of national survey findings suggests.

Based on a snapshot of public attitudes three months ahead of Zimbabwe's July 30 election, the analysis identifies a seemingly contradictory public mood of economic pessimism and cautious political hope.

It examines the likely influence of young voters, dissects assumptions about the preferences of undeclared voters, identifies unresolved election issues worrying voters, and recommends action steps that advocates of free and fair elections can take to help resolve them.

Key findings

  • While a clear majority (62%) of Zimbabweans saw the country as "going in the wrong direction," three-quarters (75%) considered that "we can use our power as voters to choose leaders who will help us improve our lives."
  • The most important problems that Zimbabweans wanted the election campaign to address were all economic issues - unemployment (cited by 64% of respondents), management of the economy (39%) and wages/salaries (25%).
  • Unemployment was an especially high priority for young voters (73%), who are also the group most likely to be reached by campaign messages on social media.
  • Youth were registering to vote in much higher numbers than in 2013 (73% vs. 57% among 18- to 25-year-olds), but they still trailed their elders (more than 90% among ages 36 and up). And the data suggest that factors other than age may well play a more important role in the election outcome, including turnout among rural residents (favouring ZANU-PF) and educated citizens (favouring MDC-T/Alliance).
  • While President Emmerson Mnangagwa led challenger Nelson Chamisa (42% to 31%) among registered likely voters as of late April/early May, different scenarios regarding "reticent" voters - the 26% who did not reveal a preference - could produce a first-round victory for either candidate.
  • Unresolved issues troubling Zimbabweans in the weeks before the election included a possible lack of ballot secrecy, bias in the mass media, fear of violence, and potential problems in the counting, announcement, and acceptance of election results.


Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in African countries. Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent's choice with nationally representative samples.

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Afrobarometer's core partner for Southern Africa, commissioned a baseline pre-election survey in Zimbabwe. With technical assistance by Afrobarometer, the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) conducted fieldwork and public dissemination of results. MPOI interviewed 2,399 adult citizens between 28 April and 13 May 2018. A sample of this size yields country-level results with a margin of error of +/-2% at a 95% confidence level.

For more details, see www.afrobarometer.org.

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