A latest poll conducted by Afrobarometer and the Mass Public Opinion Institute shows that President Robert Mugabe will beat Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai by at least 31 percent to 32 percent if Zimbabwe conducted a presidential election in July this year.
The survey indicates that Mr. Tsvangirai will win the election by a 49 percent margin if voters, who do not want to declare their political affiliation, take part in the poll.
The results contained in a report titled ‘Voting intentions in Zimbabwe: A margin of terror?’ are consistent with those released by Freedom House last week showing that the Movement for Democratic Change of Mr. Tsvangirai is trailing Zanu PF in terms of popularity among overt voters.
In the latest survey, “according to these overt responses, the two major parties are in a statistical dead heat,” reads part of the Afrobarometer report adding that the 2,400 cases contain a margin of sampling error of minus 2 percentage points.
It says actual voting intentions lie somewhere within a range of 30-34 percent for Zanu PF and 29-33 percent for the MDC-T.
“As a result, either party could have been slightly ahead and, if any election had been held in July 2012, the outcome would have been too close to call,” reads the report.
Afrobarometer says results of the poll should be used with caution when predicting the outcome of elections in Zimbabwe as the survey question refers to a hypothetical event – an election held “tomorrow” rather than an actual contest.
“The date of the next general election remains highly uncertain and much change can occur in public preferences between now and then … Any election forecast should be based only on persons likely to vote (excluding abstainers who say they won’t vote).
“This adjustment would change the Zanu PF-MDC-T ratio from 32:31 to 35:34,” reads part of the report.
According to Afrobarometer, the results confirm that Zimbabwe has a two-party system.
It says no minor political party including the MDC formation of Industry Minister Welshman Ncube, Dumiso Dabengwa’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) and former Finance Minister Simba Makoni’s Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn, can boast more than one percent support from elections.
“But these parties are relevant to political outcomes in the event of an extremely close election, when they might hold a balance of power,” says Afrobarometer.
It further says perhaps the most important result is that nearly a quarter of all citizens refused to answer the voting intentions question.
These people “often correctly claimed that their vote is a private matter, a secret that does not have to be revealed.”
Afrobarometer says the partisan preferences of this “reticent” group are unknown yet such voters are sufficiently numerous (22 percent) that their support could potentially swing an election decisively toward one party or another even to the point of negating the need for a second round run-off.
“The unrevealed preferences of ‘reticent’ voters, especially if engendered by fear of intimidation or violence, are therefore critical to understanding the state of play in partisan politics in Zimbabwe.”
The results of the survey mark a radical shift from patterns observed in four Afrobarometer polls in 2005 and 2012 using the same standard question on voting intentions.
“The trends reveal a recent resurgence in overt support for Zanu PF and concomitant erosion in citizen willingness to openly identify with the MDC-T.
Soon after the formation of the inclusive government in 2009, MDC-T enjoyed a massive edge in expressed popular preferences over Zanu PF (57 percent to 10 percent).
Afrobarometer notes that “since that time the partisan gap seems to have closed at least in terms of what Zimbabweans are willing to confide to a survey research team.”
Douglas Mwonzora, spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Mr. Tsvangirai welcomed the report saying it acknowledges that there is terror in the country.
Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said the results show that his party is gaining support because of it has people-centred policies.
“People are happy with most of the programs that we have come up with following the formation of the unity government,” said Gumbo.
Pedzisai Ruhanya, a PHD candidate at the University of Westminster in London, said the survey is a wake-up call for the Tsvangirai MDC.
Human rights lawyer, Dhewa Mavhinga said Mr. Tsvangirai’s party must take the criticism from the both surveys and not wait for elections to prove that it is still a popular movement.