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Key findings
  • The prospect of a grand opposition coalition finds support among a plurality (45%) of Zimbabweans, including more than two-thirds (68%) of MDC-T partisans.
  • Among citizens who do not align themselves with any political party – a group that makes up half of the adult population – a majority (54%) favour the idea of a grand opposition coalition. ZANU-PF supporters reject the idea, 41% to 23%.
  • Support for the coalition proposal is stronger among urban residents, better-educated citizens, and men than among rural dwellers, less-educated respondents, and women. Majorities favour the idea in just three of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces – the traditional opposition strongholds of Bulawayo (64%), Harare (62%), and Matabeleland North (54%).
  • Even a grand coalition might face an uphill struggle in the elections: Only 22% of respondents say they would vote for opposition candidates in a hypothetical election, and trust in opposition parties continues to decline, with just one-third (32%) of respondents saying they trust them “somewhat” or “a lot.”

The widely-discussed idea of a grand coalition of Zimbabwe’s opposition parties to improve their chances of defeating the long-ruling Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in next year’s elections has powerful support among partisans of the main opposition party, Afrobarometer’s most recent survey shows. A slimmer majority of politically uncommitted citizens also favour such a coalition, while ZANU-PF supporters reject the idea by a 2-to-1 margin.

In post-independence Zimbabwe, the opposition has been marked by fragmentation – a fact that cost them the presidency in the March 2008 when the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) under Morgan Tsvangirai scored a plurality but fell short of a majority. The opposition has been at its feeblest since its heavy (albeit controversial) defeat in the 2013 elections, when the ZANU-PF achieved a more than two-thirds majority, which it has increased via by-elections boycotted by the MDC-T.

Since 2013, the number of opposition parties has grown rapidly; there are reportedly now more than four dozen, although fewer than half a dozen are considered “serious” national parties. The disorganized state of the opposition has prompted widespread talk in opposition and civilsociety circles about the need for a pre-electoral “grand coalition” of opposition parties to challenge the ZANU-PF in the highly anticipated elections, expected around mid-2018.

Afrobarometer survey data show that Zimbabweans are sharply polarized along partisan lines on the issue. The findings also suggest that proponents of a grand coalition may need to do more in terms of marketing to convince uncommitted voters of a coalition’s prospects, especially in light of the fact that popular trust in opposition parties continues to decline.

Eldred V. Masunungure

Eldred. V. Masunungure is executive director of Mass Public Opinion Institute, the Afrobarometer<br /> national partner in Harare, Zimbabwe.