Free elections eliminate doubts

LONDON - In Britain, the election came and went, with the Conservatives defeating their opponents with surprising ease.

Surprising because during the preceding weeks, opinion polls by at least six pollsters had shown the Conservatives and Labour neck and neck.

It was only until the release of exit polls a few hours before vote-counting began that everyone was gobsmacked to realise that the opinion polls were not matching voting patterns at all.

Exit polls are more accurate because they establish from samples of voters, as they exit various polling stations, how they voted.

Ultimately, the exit polls almost tallied with the final outcome — Conservatives beating nearest challenger Labour by nearly 100 seats.

One after another, opposition leaders David Miliband (Labour), Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats) and Nigel Farage (Ukip) immediately resigned.

The outcome left pollsters with massive egg on their face amid calls to investigate how they had got it so wrong.

The upshot of the above is that opinion polls do not always reflect true voter behaviour.

The embarrassed pollsters, in trying to account for the discrepancy, would only say that the traditionally “shy Tories” may not have told them their true voting intentions.

Last week, Afrobarometer and Mass Public Opinion Institute (Mpoi) released results of a survey conducted in November last year, which indicated that 63 percent of the surveyed people trusted President Robert Mugabe more than any other public official and institution.

Mugabe, according to the survey, enjoys greater support in the rural areas where 70 percent trust him while he only enjoys 45 percent trust of the urban people. About 54 percent of Zimbabweans trust his party, Zanu PF.

These findings have elicited a mixture of reactions, from the surprised to the dismissive.

It has to be noted though that in 2013, the opposition dismissed results of surveys by Afrobarometer and Susan Booysen whose findings almost tallied with the eventual election results.

Yet these survey or polling results cannot be taken unreflectingly. Multiple variables determine political behaviour at different times and places.

While shyness may explain the opinion poll discrepancy in the UK, fear has worryingly mediated political behaviour in our society, renowned for its docility despite prolonged and desperate social conditions.

Mpoi director Eldred Masunungure conceded as much — that the survey was carried out in an undemocratic environment.

Under such circumstances, there is likelihood that the results would be “contaminated” as respondents may have given answers motivated by fear.

Some have been quick to draw parallels between opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who has led the main opposition since inception, and UK opposition leaders who resigned immediately after last week’s election.

Tsvangirai’s critics suggest he should emulate them.

This comparison in context is insensitive, self-serving and dishonest. While I have argued in the past that Tsvangirai should consider his position, unlike in Britain, it is accepted by honest observers that the MDC leader has operated in a toxic environment that does not make opinion polls and eventual results readily acceptable.

The opinion polls may still be correct as Afrobarometer and Booysen’s works have shown previously, as fear is taken to the ballot box. Therefore the opposition cannot ignore the results but seek to address the underlying causes.

A major challenge for our society is to eliminate societal fear and poor electoral management.

We can argue on whether the MDC’s strategy of boycotting elections is prudent or not.  But I can understand Tsvangirai’s precondition of electoral reforms.

Unlike us, armchair critics, wont to belittle his desperate endeavours, he and his members have, repeatedly, experienced brutal electoral authoritarianism that does not give him a fair chance.

In his mind, and indeed of others, he has thus never been defeated, and this probably explains his extended tenure. Free election environments eliminate doubts over opinion polling and election results.

Comments (5)

Please get your fact right, David Miliband is in the USA and left UK politics over 5 years ago. His brother , the back stabber, Ed Miliband is the one that was humiliated at the polls last Thursday.

cm - 12 May 2015

PEACEFUL PROTEST AGAINST TWINE PHIRI'S MAL-ADMINISTRATION OF CAPS UNITED If you are intrested join drop your contacts and we will add you in a whatsapp group so that we organise the when,where and how the denmonstrations will be held. REASONS BEING; The Howmine Boycot and players attending the buffaloes match in an open truck!!! AS THE MOST IMPORTANT STAKEHOLDERS LETS DO SOMETHING FOR THE CLUB ZVANYANYA TP MUST GO

CAPS UNITED SUPPORTERS UNION - 13 May 2015

The politics in Africa and Europe are two different things , you can't compare Zim and Britain on a election , there is a difference here like what the writer has mentioned , there is fear instilled into the voters and no fair playing field when elections are being conducted , so this wont show whether the ruling part won or the opposition lost because of this . Let ZEC play its role so that opposition won;t cry foul by implementing what the opposition is asking for . This will give the opposition no excuses of not accepting the election results if they lose . On the pollisters and these afrobarometer surveys I beg to differ , they don't give a correct result because the organisation which conduct these surveys , don't give us the census figure and also they do random checking at the end of the day they will do their survey not knowing the number of registered voters so i don't think their survey results will give a correct result

mudhara - 13 May 2015

TSVANGIRAI FAILED TO DELIVER FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS WHEN HE HAD THE CHANCE TO DO SO. HE SOLD-OUT. SURELY HE MUST RESIGN FOR THAT!

Patrick Guramatunhu - 16 May 2015

can we invest in a 90 year old zimbabwe be serious no play

farai chihota - 19 May 2015

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