The Zimbabwean forthcoming elections slated for the 30th of July 2018 presents presidential candidates with different prospects, one of the key issues that politicians, key board political warriors aka Social Media activists and political pundits ignore is the Sympathy Vote.
A Sympathy Vote entails an occasion when a lot of people vote for or support a particular person because he or she has suffered recently on her/his struggles with abuse.
For example a tragic death of a political candidate in the midst of a campaign. The concept of the Sympathy Vote suggests that media coverage of the tragedy and the unification of public opinion carry the party of the deceased to victory on Election Day. Thus the MDC T party stood a better chance to benefit from a Sympathy Vote after the demise of its founding leader Dr Morgan Richard Tsvangirai before its fights escalated leading to Dr Thokozani Khuphe holding her extra ordinary congress after the MDC T National Executive Council controversially endorsed Advocate Nelson Chamisa to be the interim president until congress.
It is also important to point that in this concept that the emotional dynamics of public opinion may not be so simple and binary but complex. Researchers have argued that the relationship between emotion and candidate support hinges largely on behavioural expectations of those that remain entrusted with the duty to fulfil the mandate and also how the media covers all the processes that ensures after the death of the candidate.
In light of the ugly scenes witnessed in Buhera during the burial of Morgan Tsvangirai where the MDC T Vanguard militia harassed Dr Khuphe and nearly set the hut that she and other officials have taken refuge in set in motion negative coverage by the media. Thus according to the Sympathy Vote concept if messages violate expectations, media will focus on controversy leading to a dissipation of the sympathy effect in public opinion.
One can therefore deduce that for now the Sympathy Vote flies in the face of MDC T faction led by Advocate Nelson Chamisa who now heads MDC Alliance and has eluded them because sustained coverage of ugly scenes and debauchery witnessed also in Bulawayo and continuous reports of imposition of candidates, threats of shootings and fights within rank and file of the faction. As bitter as it is to swallow for now the biggest beneficiary of the Sympathy Vote is the faction led by Dr Khuphe whom the media has largely pointed to be the victim of the MDC T internal fights, her cause has been further strengthened by sexism undertones that the public has deducted from utterances made by her erstwhile compatriot Advocate Nelson Chamisa in some platforms here and abroad.
Observers must not also ignore the fact that the ZANU PF candidate stands to benefit from the Sympathy Vote, one as a victim of former president Robert Gabriel Mugabe political shenanigans, secondly as he appears to be “messiah: who served Zimbabweans from facing 39 years of Mugabe’s rule albeit being propped by the military to ascend to presidency in November 2017. The disappearance of the Zimbabwe Republic Police in the highways who seemingly thrived on milking Zimbabweans their hard earned money, semblance of new found freedoms such as freedom of expression, freedom of association and aura of hope that has been restored post military assisted transition, opening of operating space for Civil Society to carry its functions within communities seem to tilt the Sympathy Vote also to ZANU PF candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa. Sadly the populace seem to forget that the ZANU PF candidate is accused of being the hand that implemented Gukurahundi Genocide under the instruction of former president Robert Mugabe that left over 20000 people dead according to conservative estimates from CCJP. MDC Alliance candidate Advocate Nelson Chamisa is the biggest loser of the Sympathy Vote due his seemingly reckless statements, coupled with accusations of peddling lies in his addresses.
The Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP) also stands to benefit from Sympathy Vote from Matabeleland region, their determined campaign to demand closure on Gukurahundi, their sustained media messages on economic exclusion of the people from Matabeleland is a shot in the arm for them to get the Sympathy Vote. Protests against President Emmerson Mnangagwa at Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) and the subsequent arrests of their 8 activists, protests at the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) outreach meetings also presents them with an opportunity to get the Sympathy Vote
Lastly, it can be concluded that the biggest beneficiary of the Sympathy Vote in the opposition will be MDC T faction led by Dr Thokozani Khuphe assuming the courts rule in her favour, if not that vote will certainly go to Dr Nkosana Moyo, who could spring a surprise on middle class vote and assimilate the Sympathy Vote. Emmerson Mnangagwa shall also benefit from the Sympathy Vote based of his perceived role to have untangled Zimbabweans from Robert Mugabe’s bondage. More investigations must be done to get an elaborate picture on Sympathy Vote, its nexus with public opinion created by the media.
By Michael Mdladla Ndiweni