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2005 Pre-Parliamentary Elections Survey Report: Vast reservoir of "unharnessed" voters
Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI)
March 2005

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Executive Summary
This report is based on a national survey conducted by the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) as part of its core research activities of gauging the heartbeat of the nation on key issues of national importance. The forthcoming March 31, 2005 parliamentary elections are one such event and to probe public opinion on these elections and related matters, MPOI carried out a national survey in December 2004/January 2005. The survey was in the context of the suspension by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of its participation in all national elections because of the alleged uneven electoral playing field. This suspension has since been lifted and the MDC has registered its candidates to contest the elections against its opponents, principally the ruling Zanu (PF).

It is imperative to give a brief overview of the political environment that prevailed at the time this survey was conducted. If we compare the period in which this survey was undertaken and that which prevailed prior to the 2000 parliamentary and 2002 presidential elections, it is indisputable evident that there has been a significant decline in the incidence of political violence and a general improvement in the ambience for elections. However, it is also evident that there is considerable fear among the people. The field teams detected and reported a high level of suspicion among the people, particularly in the rural areas. Respondents were somehow hesitant first in agreeing to be interviewed and in answering certain questions. The warnings that we got from some of the villagers in the rural areas to be "careful" are also indicative of the climate of fear that characterized the period under review.

Although the campaigning by all contesting parties had not heated up at the time the survey was conducted, there was a conspicuous absence of the opposition activity, particularly in the rural areas, which are considered a stronghold of the ruling party.

The MPOI survey finds that:

On voter registration, voting and elections

  • Seven in ten Zimbabweans said they are registered voters while the rest who are unregistered cited handicaps including not knowing where to register, putting registration off and not having birth certificates.
  • The majority of respondents do not bother to inspect the voters’ roll with only three out of ten Zimbabwean doing so.
  • Apparently and unexpectedly in light of some persistent assertions about the state of the voters’ roll, nearly three quarters of the electorate say they trust the voters’ roll.
  • Close to 90% of Zimbabweans view elections as important while 80% think that elections influence their lives.
  • Half the electorate thinks the elections will be free and fair, three in ten are not sure while two in ten say the elections won’t be free and fair.
  • Up to nine in ten Zimbabweans think their vote is a secret.
  • Just over 90% say voter education is important but Zimbabweans are split as to who should provide it. Four in ten say the Government should provide voter education, a quarter would rather have NGOs do this while 15% think political parties should do this.
  • Radio is an unrivalled source of political information with six in ten Zimbabweans mentioning radio as their primary source followed almost equally by word of mouth and newspapers.

On food aid and distribution

  • Up to four in ten respondents say they are food recipients.
  • NGOs are by far the key providers of food aid with nearly seven in ten food recipients saying they received it from NGOs compared to only one in ten who received it from Government-related bodies.
  • As for the criteria used in food distribution, only 8% reported party affiliation as a criterion with a plurality saying they are not aware of the criteria used.

On SADC electoral guidelines and recent electoral reforms

  • Predictably, only a small minority (16%) know anything about the SADC guidelines.
  • A slightly bigger minority (28%) know about the electoral reforms introduced by government while the rest do not.
  • On the new electoral reform to vote in only one day, just over half are not supportive of this innovation while a third of Zimbabweans are supportive.
  • There is much more support for the use of translucent ballot boxes with 55 out of 100 Zimbabweans welcoming this but a third registered their disapproval.
  • As for counting of ballots at the polling stations, six in ten are supportive but nearly a quarter are not.

On political violence

  • As of December 2004, well over half (57%), had not witnessed or heard of any cases of political violence in their area while just over a third had either witnessed or heard of such cases.
  • It is revealing that a significant proportion of Zimbabweans (slightly over half) think violence influences the way people vote while four in ten do not see the efficacy of violence in ‘persuading’ how people vote.

On the March 31 verdict

  • An overwhelming proportion of Zimbabweans, close to 86%, declared their intention to vote in the crucial March 31, 2005 elections. Given that less than 70% of respondents are registered voters, there is a reservoir of unregistered voters who intended to vote and were still to register as voters at the time of this study.
  • As to what attracts them most, the party or the candidate, the electorate is split with 47% saying the party is more important against 45% who feel the candidate is more decisive. Relatedly, six out of ten Zimbabweans consider the candidate’s plans to develop the area as influencing their vote rather than the candidate’s party, a position supported by two in ten respondents.
  • On the most crucial question of voter preferences, thirty in hundred Zimbabweans intend to vote for the ruling Zanu (PF) party while nearly sixteen in hundred expressed their preference for the main opposition MDC party. So, 46% of Zimbabweans can be said to be the hard-core pary supporters who have firm voting preferences. Of major significance too is that up to 45 out every 100 potential voters are undecided, a vast reservoir that awaits harnessing by the political gladiators.
  • Lastly, and as a parting shot, and without being probed 67% of Zimbabweans yearn for a peaceful, free and fair election while 15% felt they would rather have food on the table first.

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