- Last Updated on 24 August 2012
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One easy way is to tear to shreds a report conducted by Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) and compiled by Professor Susan Booysen which is entitled 'change and new politics in Zimbabwe'. The report shows a massive decline in MDC support, from 38% to 20%, as opposed to growth in ZANU PF support, from 17% to 31%, in the past 18 months.
No doubt the report could have been strengthened in its methodology, particularly the measure of trust in media sources and public institutions. In its overall approach, a clearer juxtaposition of the statistics and the narrative could have improved the report. In many instances, the researchers end up burying the grain in bushels of chaff hence as Shakespeare writes, 'you shall seek all day ere you find them; and when you have them', fortunately, unlike of Shakespeare's Gratiano, the grains are worth the search. Yet the threshing of the grain and the chaff by the MDC-T leaves a lot to be desired.
The MDC-T spokesperson dismissed the report on three major grounds. First, that the research was held under a climate of fear and respondents who failed to declare their vote are assumedly MDC-T supporters. Honorable Mwonzora said, 'we note that a lot of people interviewed refused to disclose their political preferences. This is obviously for fear of intimidation and the violence they have been subjected to by ZANU-PF and its military junta.' Here the MDC seeks to substitute the actual position of the report because a careful scan shows that, the 47% who did not overtly declare their support, specifically those who said their vote is their secret, exhibit crossbreed characteristics of both the MDC €T and ZANU €PF. Further holistic analyses reveal that the 47% category of undeclared support does not mirror a linear or homogeneous party preference. In other words, the report is clear that, 'should these persons vote in a next election, their support is likely to be diffused across party categories'.
Second, the MDC-T spokesperson argues that, 'the margin of error fundamentally impugns the conclusion that can be derived from this report'. The MDC is obviously creating a straw man fallacy by misrepresenting the actual insights of the report. The research definitely factors in a margin of error of 2.8% at a 95% level of confidence. The writers acknowledge that, this margin of error might affect the actual level of party support, but the margin is surely not fundamental to change the negative trend portrayed in the report as the MDC would like us to believe.
The third reasoning by the MDC is that, 'regrettably, the report does not distinguish between people in communal lands and people who were settled on commercial farms.' An electoral victory is an electoral victory whether one is voted for by people in resettlement schemes or in the communal areas especially for the Presidency. Hence I shall not spend much time on this.
Rather, there are a number of cropping issues in the report that the MDC-T should seriously consider in order to turn the tide in the next election. First, ZANU PF supporters are more likely to vote than MDC-T supporters. 81% of the surveyed ZANU PF supporters are very sure that they will vote in the next election compared to 71% of MDC-T supporters. This is reflective of the macro voting trends that depict low voter turn-out in the MDC strongholds and high turn-out in ZANU PF strongholds. The MDC simply needs a breakthrough 'go vote campaign' that increases participation in electoral processes by its membership. Second, socio-economic issues are very central to voters' needs hence the MDC must walk on two legs, emphasising political and civil rights as well as the material condition of the people. People's quotidian concerns in the report include food, clean water, access to healthcare and cash.
Third, the 4G (Fourth Generation), those aged between 18 and 24 years, who were aged between 5 and 11 years when the MDC was formed seem not to be automatically ingrained in the party. The 18 €24 year olds constitute 51% of the MDC €T's declared support base which is almost the same with ZANU €PF's 48% in this category. More worrying is that only 44% of the surveyed members of this group are registered voters hence a first time voters' project is something to consider for the MDC if it wishes to turn the tide. The MDC needs to capture the generational needs of this demographic generation which might not easily resonate with those of the 3G (Third Generation), 2G (Second Generation) and 1 G (First Generation). The former groups were pretty much active when the party was formed.
Fourth, unemployment is singled out as the biggest problem and probably the reason why the 'indigenisation' bait resonates with most respondents in the survey. With the collapse of the formal economy most Zimbabweans have long been engaged in informal activities. To them the indigenisation rhetoric provides hope to grow their self-help projects or start new ones. An alternative blue-print that deals with unemployment and increases prospects for the poor is a possible game changer for the MDC. Fifth, legitimacy by performance is a reality. Political support is neither constant nor given on a silver platter because the people are not blind. History is littered with major shifts in political allegiance and the MDC is not immune. Consequently, MDC-T councillors and government officials must shed bad habits that erode the brand of the party and work for the betterment of the ordinary people.
I guess Zimbabwe's transitional election is too important for the MDC to be spent in semantic denials of empirical findings that can otherwise be harnessed positively to boost its chances of winning. Confronting the elephant in the room rather than being dismissive is for the party's own ultimate good and not for the researchers. On cost-benefit analysis, even if the party is to fairly acknowledge the report's shortcomings, it would lose nothing in seeking the grain which is definitely worth the effort. If anything the MDC would emerge stronger from such an approach going forward.