23 July 2018

Zimbabweans Remain Apprehensive About Manipulation of the Presidential Election

Photo: Afrobarometer
Zimbabwe's presidential race tightens one month ahead of July 30 voting, a new survey finds.
press release

Accra, Ghana — Zimbabwe's presidential campaign has done little to allay popular apprehensions about the security of the vote, the counting of ballots, the announcement of election results, and the possibility of post-election violence, according to a new public-opinion survey.

Findings of the nationally representative survey, which the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) conducted in all 10 provinces of Zimbabwe between 25 June and 6 July 2018, show that while a majority of citizens were optimistic that the election will be free and fair, substantial minorities remained worried about manipulation in the final stages of the electoral process.

These findings largely confirm results of a pre-election baseline survey in April/May but show that as the election approached, citizen apprehensions about military intervention and the potentially violent aftermath of a disputed election were on the rise.

Other findings from the new survey, including a significant drop in President Emmerson Mnangagwa's lead over challenger Nelson Chamisa, are detailed in Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 223, at www.afrobarometer.org.

Key findings

  • As of early July, substantial minorities of Zimbabweans said they expect election irregularities:
  • About three in 10 thought it "somewhat" or "very" likely that their ballots will not be secret (28%) and that biometric voter registration data will be used to find out how they voted (32%).
  • About one in four (26%) said it is somewhat/very likely that individuals' votes will not actually be counted.
  • Almost half (45%) of Zimbabweans saw it as likely that incorrect election results will be announced.
  • About one-third (34%) of all respondents "agreed" or "agreed very strongly" that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is a biased rather than neutral body.
  • Notwithstanding public concerns about election management, widespread optimism expressed in early May was reaffirmed in early July: 60% said they think the election will be largely free and fair, and more than three-fourths (77%) continued to believe that elections are more likely to "improve lives" rather than "change nothing"
  • Yet experience with political party primary elections conducted in May 2018 was hardly a cause for such optimism. Only minorities thought that the ZANU-PF (44%) and MDC-T (33%) primaries were either "completely free and fair" or suffered only "minor problems."
  • Six out of 10 Zimbabweans (62%) continued to feel that the presence of police at polling stations will improve the integrity of the elections. Even larger numbers welcomed the presence of independent election observers. But support for the presence of uniformed military personnel at the polls declined from 48% to 41% between May and July.
  • More than four in 10 respondents (44%) said it was "somewhat" or "very" likely that security agencies will not respect the results of the 2018 presidential election, an increase from 41% in early May. And the proportion of Zimbabweans who said they expect post-election violence increased as well, from 40% in early May to 44% by early July.
  • More than four in 10 Zimbabweans (43%) said they personally fear becoming a victim of electoral intimidation or violence. Though high compared to an average of 30% across 24 African countries, this reflects an 8-percentage-point drop from the slim majority (51%) who expressed such fear in early May.
  • This shift is reinforced by a growing majority (68%) who said the current government is performing "fairly well" or "very well" at preventing electoral violence (up from 63% in May).
  • The proportion of respondents who said that "people must be careful of what they say about politics" dipped by 6 percentage points between early May (82%) and early July (76%). But a tendency to self-censorship remained strong (e.g. higher than a 24-country average of 70%).
  • Over the past two months, there has been a slight improvement in the popular misperception that voters will be required to show a BVR slip at the polling station: 64% still held this mistaken belief in July, down from 72% in May. And fewer people reported having been asked to show their BVR serial numbers (25% in July vs. 31% in May).
  • The ruling party appeared to have a stronger organizational presence on the ground than its challenger. Despite a recent countrywide campaign blitz by Chamisa, a large gap in campaign event attendance remained between the parties in July (34% for the ZANU-PF vs. 18% for the MDC-T Chamisa/Alliance).

Pre-election surveys

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Afrobarometer's core partner for Southern Africa, commissioned two pre-election surveys in Zimbabwe.

Fieldwork was conducted by the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI), Afrobarometer's national partner in Zimbabwe.

Technical support was provided by Afrobarometer, 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.

Findings from the first survey, conducted 28 April-13 May 2018, are available at www.afrobarometer.org.

For the second survey, MPOI interviewed 2,400 adult citizens between 25 June and 6 July 2018. A sample of this size yields country-level results with a margin of error of +/-2 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.

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