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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.