George Chingarande Correspondent
In less than a week, Zimbabweans vote in a watershed election. Not surprisingly, the impending elections evoke a myriad emotions for different reasons.
Some are hyper-ventilating; some are quaking in their shoes and many are hyper-vigilant in defending anything perceived as unkind to their preferred candidates. More than any other election since 1980, this one is being held in an environment of unfettered freedom yet the stakes are too high.
Given what happened in the past 250 days or so; whoever loses will soon discover that the charitable forces that propelled him can be equally chastising. Whereas the success the candidates have mastered in the recent past is attributed to collective efforts; loss will be traced to personal foibles and missteps.
Whoever wins also wins the mandate to reconfigure the shape and leadership of everything associated with the State. The new dynamics also threaten those non-state actors who thrived on and profited from the peddling of perceptions, accurately or otherwise, of stability on one side and crisis and chaos on the other
One other thing! The merchants who thrived on trading influence and the gatekeepers who controlled access to the seat of power, the green pastures and the feeding troughs, will also change. Much is at stake.
This being the case, many are genuinely exercised by the question — who will win this election? As often is the case, many forecasts are being bandied about. Forecasting election outcomes is an inexact science. The forecasters are a mixed multitude.
The quacks who manufacture forecasts to manipulate perceptions, the inept who attempt tasks beyond their provinces of competence and the intellectually dishonest who twist information to deceive tend to overcrowd the few genuine operators.
How then can one make sense of elections? This piece presents and discusses a few factors to consider and then hazards some recommendations and forecasts. Hopefully, this will shed some light
If one distils the data from the elections since 1980, some key winning factors emerge. The first of these is voter turnout. Zimbabwe experienced a decrease in voter turnout from a high of 94 percent in 1980 to a low of 32 percent in 1996. After the formation of the MDC the turnout ranged between 26 percent in the February 2000 referendum and 59 percent in 2013.
Actual numbers can be helpful in revealing an important secret here. In the referendum, the turnout was 26 percent. The NO vote which was sponsored by players that are now associated with the MDC won with 54,31 percent to 45,69 percent.
If this had been a presidential election the MDC would have won in the first round. In the parliamentary elections that followed the same year, the voter turnout was 48 percent. Zanu-PF had a small majority with 48,6 percent of the vote to MDC’s 47 percent.
To date this is the closest election outcome. If it had been a presidential election, a run-off would have been called. In 2008, the voter turnout was 42,4 percent. The MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangirai led the first round with 47,9 percent of the vote to Zanu-PF’s Mugabe (43,2 percent). This necessitated a runoff.
In the 2005 parliamentary elections the turnout was 47,7 percent and Zanu-PF won with 59,6 percent to MDC’s (39,5 percent). In the 2002 presidential elections the turnout was 55,4 percent. Zanu-PF won 56 percent to 42 percent.
In 2013, the turnout was 59 percent and Zanu-PF prevailed (61,09 percent to 33,94 percent). Reading figures can be a dreary and boring exercise, yet it is often very informative. From these figures a few salient trends can be noted.
First, the MDC HAS NOT FARED WELL in any election in which the voter turnout was more than 50 percent.
Second, when the turnout is below 50 percent Zanu-PF has tended to struggle. Why is this important? To date all polls indicate that the voter turnout will be well above 50 percent. This is also supported by the sheer multitudes attending rallies of both major parties.
However, given the trend since the formation of the MDC the turnout is not likely to exceed 65 percent. Decipher what you may, but there is a trend here which cannot be easily wished away.
For simplicity, party cohesiveness as used here is the extent to which a party is pulling in the same direction. To better assess party cohesiveness another term called situational proximity will be introduced.
This answers the question-how close to the election did the internal contradictions occur. As already indicated Zanu-PF failed to garner 50 percent of the vote on three occasions. The loss in the 2000 referendum threw Zanu-PF into a tailspin. In the election that followed the direction in which the party was headed was openly questioned in some provinces.
In all the Matabeleland provinces the base was literally burnt. Even the once mighty oaks and untouchables like Dumiso Dabengwa were reduced to mundane shrinking shrubs. Some have never recovered.
In Masvingo, the Zvobgo-Mavhaire combination morphed into scheming grandmasters. Manicaland was not spared either. This continued right into the election. In 2008, the Simba Makoni factor and the “bhora musango” rebellion prevailed right into the election.
How did this affect the party? To answer this question, the actual numbers will be consulted.
The numbers for Zanu-PF were as follows: 2000 (1 211 284); 2002 (1 685 212); 2005 (1 569 867); 2008 (1 079 730) and 2013 (2 110 434). The average is 1 531 300. The elections that Zanu-PF struggled were characterised by high dis-cohesion that continued right into the election period and the numbers were well below the average.
In 2013, the Zanu-PF numbers were above average by about 580 000; a whopping 38 percent above average. This is an outlier that raises eyebrows. What can possibly explain this? The MDC has alleged vote rigging without providing proof.
However, there is one phenomenon that was widely reported. After the 2008 runoff imbroglio the Zanu-PF campaign team did not demobilise. Reports from that day allege that the war veterans led by Jabulani Sibanda were camped in the villages and campaigning daily. Why is this important?
In the current election period, that has not been the case. Zanu-PF’s challenge is to repeat or exceed the 2013 figures. That would seem to be a tall order.
How about the dis-cohesion caused by the so-called Tsholotsho declaration in 2005. The 2005 election was a parliamentary election in which candidates contested at a local level. Hence the impact was local rather than national. The rebellion was quickly subdued. The main actors were either expelled or contained.
Those that chose to run as independents and had the resources such as Jonathan Moyo did well. This demonstrates that Zanu-PF is not immune from independent candidates who are well resourced. Kereke and Samukange in 2013 are cases to remember.
The “enfant terribles” Agrippa Bopela Masiyakurima in Mutare North and Mliswa in Norton can cause major localised upsets with no bearing on the national scale in this election cycle. Since the last election Zanu-PF has suffered two major dis-cohesion incidents, the Mujuru purges and Operation Restore Legacy. Given this backdrop can Zanu-PF repeat the 2013 performance?
The MDC figures for the same period were as follows: 2000 (1 171 096); 2002 (1 258 401); 2005 (1 041 292); 2008 (1 195 562) and 2013 (1 172 349). The average was 1 167 740. The MDC figures are very consistent. Why is this important? A few salient observations can be made.
First, Tsvangirai seemingly had plateaued and was unable to grow the party beyond 1,2 million votes. This indicates a need for change at the top.
Second, this consistency in voter numbers runs contrary to the MDC theory of migrating X in the 2013 ballot. If Xs had indeed migrated the 2013 number would be expected to be an outlier lower than the average.
Third, the core MDC base stands at about 1,2 million votes while the Zanu-PF base is 1,5 million. This supports the observation made earlier that when the bases are properly canvassed, and the voter turnout is high Zanu-PF tends to win.
Fourth, Zanu-PF’s challenge is to replicate the 2013 numbers, while the MDC challenge is to catch up. To achieve this MDC needs to add at least 300 000 more votes if Zanu-PF has its average performance, but 1,1 million if Zanu-PF replicates the 2013 performance.
This represents a growth of 18 percent on the lower end and 100 percent on the high end. The question is not whether this is in the realm of possibility, but whether it is probable. To address this one needs to consult the BVR statistics province by province.
Before examining the BVR statistics as a separate factor, it is important to note that all the MDC dis-cohesion events did not happen in an election year.
In the past splits occurred in an election year, but after the election loss. This season the Khupe saga represents a novel challenge. It will be interesting to see what happens after the election should MDC lose. Split?
Voter registration statistics
Zimbabwe has 10 electoral provinces. The BVR registration figures are as follows: Bulawayo (258 690), Harare (900 300), Manicaland (733 293), Mash Central (531 864), Mash East (633 126), Mash West (644 974), Masvingo (617 204), Mat North (338 851), Mat South (264 160), Midlands (761 474).
Previous elections produced a well-defined pattern. There are three zones. The Red Zone consisting of provinces that went to the MDC is in all elections. These are Harare, Bulawayo and Mat South. The Green-Orange zone consisting of provinces that have voted Zanu-PF in all elections.
These are the three Mashonaland provinces and Midlands. Finally, there are three swing provinces that have changed hands between the two parties, which are Manicaland, Midlands and Mat South to a lesser extent.
No party has won the election without winning both Midlands and Manicaland. Although Matabeleland South has changed hands between MDC-T, MDC and Zanu-PF the lower voter numbers in that province minimises its impact.
One statistic stands out in these numbers. The three Matabeleland provinces combined have less registered voters than Harare on its own. This demonstrates that in terms of numbers alone Lovemore Moyo’s argument for a regional party is viable.
However, viability and desirability are two different issues. But this is a digression. What is clearly discernible is that the MDC has one voter rich province and two with much less numbers. Zanu-PF has four voter rich provinces on its side.
In the absence of an extraneous shock, the best predictor of the future is the relevant past. In this case, the relevant past are the voter trends from previous elections. Taking an average of all the elections since the MDC formation produces the following pattern for Zanu-PF vs MDC province by province. Bulawayo: 20 percent: 80 percent. Harare: 35:65; Manicaland: 52: 48; Mash Cent: 75:25; Mash East: 75:25; Mash West:70:30; Masvingo:60:40; Midlands: 65:35; Mat South: 48:52 and Mat North: 35:65. Given these historical trends, the voter statistics and party dis-cohesion, is it probable that the MDC will increase its support by more than 300 000 in case Zanu-PF support remains constant and by ONE million in case Zanu-PF repeats the 2013 performance? Given how engaged the voters from both parties are, is it probable that Zanu-PF support will plummet below 1,3 million, which would make the MDC task much easier? Either way, it is a tall order.
It is not easy to come up with a single quantitative metric as a proxy measure for organisational capacity. However, there are some indicators that are useful. These include financial resources, presence in wards in all provinces and experience in logistics and operations. This is a ward-based election. To demonstrate the importance of organisational capacity consider this. There are 10 985 polling stations. If between now and election day a party can persuade 10 more people per ward to vote for it, it will add approximately 110 00 voters to its tally. That’s about two percent of the registered voters. If we assume 65 percent voter turnout, that translates to three percent surge in a week. Imagine what arranging two thirty tonne trucks per ward to carry voters to the polling stations could do to voter turn out in the rural areas!
All indications are that one party is much stronger than the others financially. Additionally, one party is represented in all wards. How can we get an idea of a party’s capacity to conduct a complex turnout the — voter operation? For a party to effectively drive its numbers up in a short space of time, it is important for a party to have a data base of the voters and where to find them. This is where big data analytics come in. The other indicator is voter attendance at rallies. All polls including the two Afrobarometer surveys clearly indicate that more people reported attending Zanu-PF rallies than MDC rallies.
It is important to note that although both parties have had well-attended rallies Zanu-PF has been accused of trafficking voters to rallies. Voter trafficking is a double-edged sword. It distorts attendance figures. However, to bus voters to a rally you need to know where they are and to be able to organise transport for them. This comes in very handy when the need to achieve a rapid surge arises. The question to consider is, which party has the greater capacity to carry out a complex voter turn out operation at ward level. Different factors seem to favour Zanu-PF.
The next factor to explore is opinion polls. Opinion polls when properly done can give an indication of the strengths of different parties. A wide spectrum of polls has been published; ranging from very dubious to methodologically robust polls. A poll of polls indicates that in all polls to date Zanu-PF is leading, albeit with small margins in other polls.
One poll has attracted a lot of attention because of its robust methodology. This is the Afrobarometer poll. The first poll gave Zanu-PF 42 percent and MDC Alliance 31 percent with a two percent margin of error. What this means is that the Zanu-PF support could be anywhere in the range 40-44 percent compared to 29-33 percent for MDC.
The second poll gave Zanu-PF 40 percent and MDC 37 percent with also a two percent error margin. This means the Zanu-PF range is 38-42 percent compared to 35-40 percent for the MDC-Alliance. This suggests that the race is tightening. If the extremes are considered Zanu-PF’s lowest (38 percent) is actually lower than MDC’s highest (40 percent), which means that according to this poll MDC can actually be leading.
The Zanu-PF lead has narrowed from 11 percent to three percent in two months or so. If the trend continues MDC will surge ahead by election day. This has caused a lot of excitement in the media. Although the data and the methodology are unimpeachable, there are two details that need attention.
First, at the time of the first survey the MDC leadership issue had barely been resolved. What is being termed a surge is actually a coalescing and consolidation of MDC base behind Chamisa. These are not new voters attracted to the MDC, but most likely MDC supporters who were previously ambivalent because of the leadership wrangles who have now thrown their lot with Chamisa. Why is this the likely explanation? Consider two details.
First, statistically Zanu-PF’s share of the vote has not changed (range-40-44 percent vs 38-42 percent). Second, the percentage of “undecided voters” is constant at about 20 percent. Likewise, the votes for the other parties are also statistically constant at around three percent.
What about the 20 percent “undeclared intention”? This is not likely to be undecided. This is what is here referred to as “scripted responding”. Consider this. If for 18 years it is drummed into people’s minds that “Your Vote Is Secret” and then in the 18th year you inquire into their voting intentions, what do you expect? A good number of respondents will give an ambivalent answer. This should be construed as undecided.
It simply means that the voter education has been effective and respondents are giving what they believe to be the smart answer. Going back to the latest Afrobarometer data, disregarding the 20 percent undeclared and then recalculating the percentages without the undeclared reveals the usual pattern that was discussed under Voter Registration statistics above. If you calculate the data this way, and then factor in the voter registration statics above, you will suddenly realise that the MDC is likely to get a maximum of 1,7 million votes while Zanu-PF will get a minimum of 1,9 million votes. This race is not even close. If all the factors discussed in this piece are taken together Zanu-PF is likely to win with anything between 53 percent and 60 percent of the total votes cast.