Heal the Beloved Country: Zimbabwe's Polarized Electorate

For a moment, Zimbabwe’s July 30, 2018, elections seemed to promise relief from a traumatic political past. An aging autocrat had been deposed and his successor intoned pledges of “a new dispensation.” A dormant opposition movement began to reawaken to opportunities for open political campaigning. At home and abroad, Zimbabwe’s well-wishers allowed themselves a cautious hope that change was finally afoot. Instead, the 2018 electoral contest left the nation deeply divided. The run-up to the vote reproduced patterns of unfair campaigning, one-party dominance, and political intimidation inherited from the past. Election observers noted that the voters’ register remained opaque and biased, that the ruling party showered its supporters with public handouts (including food aid), and that soldiers, party militants, and traditional leaders continued to threaten the electorate, especially in rural areas. These combined irregularities helped the incumbent Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) to assemble enough votes for a two-thirds super-majority (180 out of 270 seats) in the lower house of Parliament. This policy paper uses Afrobarometer data to explore whether elite divisions are mirrored at the popular level. It asks: Are ordinary Zimbabweans split along political lines? If so, how deeply and over which issues? And what, if anything, can be done?