Zimbabwe 2018 Elections: Voter Behavior and Demographics

 

The 2018 election is perhaps the most interesting election in Zimbabwe’s history so far, for a number of reasons.

 

Firstly, It is the first election in the country’s history that does not include Mr Robert Mugabe on the ballot paper.

 

Secondly,in this election the predominance of voters are below the age of forty- about sixty percent in fact.

 

For that reason, many analysts and politicians are putting their money on youthful candidates prevailing at ward, constituency and national levels.

 

The overall logic that youthful candidates are likely to prevail because the majority of voters are youthful is understandable, but misguided all the same.

 

The fact is that elections are complex processes, and voter patterns and behaviors are complex as well.

 

A number of factors come into play when attempting to deduce voter patterns within the various demographics in the forth-coming elections.

 

I will attempt to discuss some of those factors here.

 

Age and Region

 

Nearly 5.3 million Zimbabweans have registered to vote in the 2018 elections.

 

This is comparable with 5.8 million who registered to vote in the 2013 harmonized elections.

 

Within the 5.3 million registered voters, there are three subgroups theoretically speaking.

 

These are: 1) “non-voters” (those who are registered but never have voted) 2) “occasional voters” and 3) “frequent voters”, that is, those who vote in every election.

 

It is often the case that the frequent voters are the elderly in society (or the forty percent who are over forty years old) and this group consists of people who have a sense of ‘civic duty’ and citizenship.

 

The “non-voters” who have registered to vote for the first time are an erratic group.

 

This is because it is not guaranteed that first time voters will spend election-day in queues waiting for their turn to vote.

 

In fact there is a high chance that many youthful first-time voters will treat election day as a holiday and take the day off.

 

It is indisputable that the figure of 5.3 million registered voters was arrived at over a period of years.

 

therefore it is highly unlikely that 5.3 million voters will turn out at polling stations on election day,especially considering that the 2013 harmonized elections saw only 59 percent of registered voters turning up to vote on election day.

 

Furthermore, the generally held ‘rational model’ for judging voter participation suggests that individuals will decide to vote when the benefits of voting exceeds the cost of voting.

 

This means that voters will participate in elections when they feel they have something tangible to gain, or lose.

 

In light of this we are likely to experience a high voter turnout in agricultural and rural areas, which consist largely of people  who have benefited from land reform or agricultural inputs.

 

These people will turn out in their numbers because they have something tangible to gain or lose and are therefore likely to vote.

 

However the urban areas are perhaps more likely to experience voter apathy because of a lack of tangible benefits for voting.

 

It is likely that Harare Metropolitan and Bulawayo Metropolitan will suffer from voter apathy among first time voters.

 

Gender

 

While many analysts are putting forward the argument that sixty percent of voters are below the age of forty, they are forgetting to mention that about fifty-four percent of our national population consists of women.

 

This means that we can assume that fifty four percent of registered voters (even those below the age of forty) are women, and this will have a significant impact on the electoral outcome.

 

Research from different parts of the world reveals that women vote at higher rates than men.

 

Furthermore It is also my perception that a significant number of women voters relate to women candidates irrespective political affiliation, primarily because women leaders understand issues relating to women far much more than men.

 

For this reason, we may find that women voters may prefer to choose female candidates at ward, constituency and presidential levels in the 2018 elections.

 

Such a scenario will see the Mujuru-Khupe alliance secure a significant number of votes in the forthcoming elections.

 

 

Political Affiliation

 

I think it’s fair to say that historically in Zimbabwe, the members of a political party will automatically vote for their party.

 

Of course, there have been incidents where this did not happen such as the 2008 ‘bhora musango’ campaign which saw traditional ZANU-PF members voting for their ward and constituency candidates, but not for their presidential candidates.

 

In 2018, I do not foresee a ‘bhora-musango’ scenario.

 

However, the MDC-T political infighting that has occurred over the last few months may see the Chamisa led MDC-Alliance lose a significant number of votes among party members, particularly in the Matebeleland regions.

 

Nevertheless, ultimately, this election will be determined not so much by the popularity of the Presidential candidates, but rather by the popularity of the ward and parliamentary candidates as these are the people who represent their parties in the various communities on a daily basis.

 

As things stand, it still seems as though ZANU-PF has the upper hand, particularly in rural Zimbabwe.

 

Tau Tawengwa

 

Executive Director

 

Email

zimrays@gmail.com

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