Zimbabwe Opinion Survey Reveals Hope for Elections, but Cynicism About Political Leaders

Washington

According to a public opinion survey released today, Zimbabweans remain anxiously uncertain about the political future of their country. Findings from Change and ‘New’ Politics in Zimbabwe revealed that despite widespread optimism that the next elections expected in the first half of 2013 will bring definite change, many Zimbabweans continue to fear that the lead up to elections will include heightened levels of political violence.

“Freedom House is encouraged by Zimbabweans’ obvious enthusiasm about the upcoming elections despite the lingering fear of violence,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “These findings should serve as bellwether for what citizens are expecting of their future political leaders and how both political parties can define their policies to adequately address these expectations.”

The survey, commissioned by Freedom House and conducted by South African political analyst Susan Booysen and the Mass Public Opinion Institute in Harare, found that respondents were pleased by significant economic improvements that have occurred under the Inclusive Government but critical of political leaders’ performance on employment creation, service delivery and addressing persistent food shortages. Among the approximately one half of respondents who agreed to state their political opinions, expression of support for the two leading parties, ZANU PF and MDC T, shifted considerably from earlier Freedom House surveys with sizeable gains for ZANU PF and losses for MDC T.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • 47% of those who said they will vote in the next elections stated ‘this is the election that will make the difference’. The largest block of respondents, 45%, said the Zimbabwean people will be ready for elections in the first half of 2013. 85% are ‘sure’ or ‘very sure’ that they will be casting their ballots in the next election.
  • A total of 35% respondents in this survey (compared with 16% in 2010) now believe that the next round of elections will be free and fair.
  • 65% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that ‘fear of violence and intimidation make people vote for parties or candidates other than the ones they prefer.’ Respondents’ actual experiences of violence have decreased, however, with 22% reporting incidents of violence in their communities from 2010-2012, a drop from the 58% who reported the same between 2008-2010.
  • While Zimbabweans still positively assess the Inclusive Government (IG) on a variety of issues, its positive ratings are substantially less positive than in 2010. In contrast with 2010, survey respondents are now greatly more critical of IG’s ability to assure Zimbabweans freedom to speak about political matters openly. 44% now state the IG is doing ‘poorly’ or ‘very poorly’ in assuring freedom of speech compared with 9% who gave this response in 2010.
  • The most serious problem Zimbabweans confront is unemployment. Approximately 2/3 of Zimbabweans are formally unemployed, and the effects are felt strongly at both community and national levels.
  • Zimbabweans have become more critical of their political leaders. While 40% said they trusted political parties ‘a lot’ or ‘somewhat’ in 2010, this has dropped to 30% in 2012. Based on the responses of the 53% of survey participants who agreed to state their political choices, trust in MDC-T, in particular, dropped from 66% to 39%, while trust in ZANU PF rose from 36% to 52%.
  • When asked who they would vote for if parliamentary elections were held tomorrow, 47% of respondents said they would not vote, or refused to indicate who they would vote for (up from 41% in 2010). Of the 53% who declared their preference, 20% said they would support MDC-T (down from 38% in 2010) and 31% ZANU PF (up from 17% in 2010).

The survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1198 adult Zimbabweans between 23 June and 7 July 2012. Topics addressed were political power, elections, fear and violence, the constitution, and socio-economic conditions. Interviews were carried out in all ten provinces in each respondent’s language of choice. The survey follows similar Freedom House polls that were conducted in November-December 2010 and September 2009. The nearly 3-year span of these surveys offers a rich field of comparison between the results of the different surveys and brings to light intriguing new developments in Zimbabwean public opinion.

The following findings were taken from an interim report. Comprehensive findings from the survey will be released in September 2012.

Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Zimbabwe since 1980.

For more information, visit:

Freedom in the World 2012: Zimbabwe

Freedom of the Press 2011: Zimbabwe

Freedom on the Net 2011: Zimbabwe

Blog: Freedom at Issue

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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