There is a relationship between these two offices that lies at the heart of the political problems in
Zimbabwe, and is playing out today in a very dangerous fashion.
It is not a new problem, nor one that afflicts Zimbabwe alone. But it is so essentially the problem
Afrobarometer surveys on Zimbabwe frequently run into criticism about both the methodology and the findings. This was the case with the public release of the Round 7 (2017) survey results. A particular bone of contention was what to make of apparently contradictory findings. For example, participants were confused by the findings that a majority of Zimbabweans both trust and fear the President, Robert Mugabe. This confusion was driven apparently by a failure to appreciate the limitations of quantitative research.
The methodological confusion was answered by the Afrobarometer itself (Howard & Logan. 2017), but another issue emerged from the criticism. This was more interesting, and we hypothesized that this might derive from the actual knowledge base of the critics. It raised the question about whether the critics were as informed about the views and opinions of the Zimbabwean polity as they claimed. It led us to speculate that the critics were an “elite”, and, as such, more detached from the reality of public opinion than they knew. There was some basis for this hypothesis derived from an earlier study that suggested the middle class was composed of “disconnected democrats” (RAU. 2015).
Accordingly, we derived a test of this hypothesis by constructing a measure of “elitism”. We used this measure to test political agency in a comparative fashion: we compared the opinions and expressed behaviours of “elites” and “non-elites”. We looked at seven indices of political agency:
Voice – the ability to express one’s views in public around political issues: feeling free to express one’s views and criticise officials;
Community Participation – the ability to participate in public activities: belonging to organisations and participating in community activities;
Political Participation – the ability to participate in political activities, with elections as the chosen vector: discussing politics, voting, and participating in electoral events;
Activism – active contact with duty bearers such as MPs, local government officials, government officials, etc.
Political Trust – trust in public officials and bodies, such as the president, parliament, ZEC, the police, etc.
Support for democracy – preferring democracy and being satisfied with Zimbabwe’s democracy;
Political party affiliation – expressed support for a political party.
Given our overall research question - are the views of the elite grounded in their experience of engagement in the general political life of Zimbabwe – we examined five sub-hypotheses as follows:
Voice – Elites should have higher scores on voice;
Community participation – Elites should have higher scores on community participation;
Political participation – Elites should have higher scores on political participation;
Activism – Elites should have higher score on activism;
Support for democracy – Elites should have higher scores on support for democracy;
Political trust – Elites should have lower scores on political trust;
Political affiliation – Should be no difference between Elites and Non-elites. We might predict that Elites would support MDC-T and that Non-elites would support ZANU-PF, but it seemed parsimonious to predict a split as suggested.
The findings were interesting. Apart from Voice, where there was no difference between “elites” and “non-elites”; “non-elites” showed greater political agency on every index than “elites”. The “non-elites” had greater community participation, political participation, activism, support for democracy, and political trust. It did not appear that the “fear factor”, raised by many critics was relevant. When asked the question about who was the survey sponsor, “elites” accurately responded that they thought it was the Afrobarometer, whilst 40% of the “non-elites” responded that it was the government.
It was also necessary to test an important variable in Zimbabwean polls – rural or urban residence. Unsurprisingly, “elitism” is strongly associated with being urban, and, perhaps unsurprising, rural respondents showed greater political agency on every one of the variables.
Additionally, nearly 50% of the “non-elite” group were willing to express a political party affiliation, with the greatest majority for ZANU-PF.
When the indices are disaggregated into their components, the following emerged for “elites”:
They do not belong to a community organisation, do not attend community meetings, or join others to raise an issue;
They are less likely to vote, less likely to go to a campaign rally, and to work for a candidate;
They are less active, and contact duty bearers much less frequently;
They are stronger supporters of democracy, but not happy with the democracy they have;
They have very little trust in political institutions and offices;
Finally, they seem less likely to support a political party.
What value can be ascribed to the opinions of the “elite”? Elites show all the aspects of what we have previously termed “disconnected democrats” (RAU.2016), and hence not be best-placed to understand the general Zimbabwean polity.