There has been a lot of fact and fiction following the publication of the latest survey by the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) last week.
CONWAY TUTANI ECHOES
Some critics — several of them clearly, unabashedly and rabidly interested parties — have attacked not only the credibility of the results, but questioned the reputation of the organisation itself, and impugned the integrity of those “daring” to see aspects of the survey that have scientific provability and validity.
One begins to ask: Do they, in the first place, know the basis and purpose of such surveys? Do they have to be taken step by step?
This is not surprising at all because people, by instinct, don’t want to hear the frank truth whereas polls are conducted in a largely antiseptic manner, meaning the results are not contaminated by bias for or against.
The methods are dispassionate and detached, making them clinical; they project sentiments at a specific point in time and place.
Today’s poll results won’t be of much use in, for instance, two years’ time, especially in Zimbabwe, where there has been so much flux and fluidity.
There has been continuous shifts. There has been comings and goings. That is politics. It gives rise to the most improbable configurations. It brings combinations you wouldn’t have imagined in your wildest dreams.
But there is order in that chaos; there is a pattern to it, as seen in the contradictory but perfectly understandable findings of the survey that President Robert Mugabe is both feared and trusted in almost equal measure. At one level he is feared; at another level he is trusted.
But this completely eludes straight-line thinkers. Writes Chas Martin in his article titled Innovative Eye: Change How You Think, Change Your World: “A straight line is the world’s simplest pattern. It connects any two points: A to B, start to finish, end to end.
When faced with a question, our minds instantly scan existing patterns and identify the recognisable one as the answer. Example: Five plus five equals what? The straight line answer is ten. But, ten is not the only answer. Five plus five can also equal three plus seven. Or two plus eight. Or twelve minus two. Or twenty divided by two.”
One critic attacked the results on the grounds that: “The survey went on to deprecate or, more appropriately, belittle opposition parties such as Simba Makoni’s Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, Welshman Ncube’s MDC and Zapu led by Dumiso Dabengwa indicating that support for these parties is gravitating towards zero. How Tendai Biti’s People’s Democratic Party, still in its infancy, comes in fourth position ahead of established opposition parties really befuddles the mind.”
It’s a wrong extrapolation to say that just because Biti’s party is the newest it should be the smallest. Some parties start small, yes, but others start big. There isn’t one formula or one template as such.
Not to mention that parties don’t grow at the same rate because it’s not a biological process. In South Africa, new kid on the block Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by the indefatigable and formidable Julius Malema is now the third biggest party in the country. Like him or hate him, Malema’s sheer force of personality— that seduction, charm, inspiration, etc, to convince others to buy into one’s
agenda — has propelled EFF into a big player in so short a time. Leadership is a big factor in party growth. Both Robert Mugabe and, before him, the late Joshua Nkomo were such effective leaders who built their parties against all odds when the colonial regime was at its strongest.
Their fighting spirit never flagged. They said none, but ourselves.
It is pertinent to say Nkomo has so far been irreplaceable as Dabengwa has failed to fill his big shoes — that’s how great a leader he was.
Furthermore, if Biti and Co took even as little as 10% of the MDC-T membership when they broke away — as can be extrapolated from the poll survey that 10% of the interviewees find Biti trustworthy — then they are not starting from ground zero. They are starting from a solid base.
They accumulated considerable political capital while still in the
MDC-T. They have an unexpended balance of political capital — that invisible currency that politicians can use to mobilise the voting public. Scientific analysis also means you give credit where it’s due. Doing so doesn’t make one a Biti diehard.
The only leaders with bigger political capital than him at the moment are Zanu PF’s Robert Mugabe, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and axed former Vice-President Joice Mujuru.
It’s a fact, not fiction — and that doesn’t make one a Mugabe, Tsvangirai or Mujuru zealot. That is the current state of national politics. It has got nothing to do with the writer’s preference, although I do have my leanings like everybody else.
Progressive political parties will extrapolate elements from the MPOI survey and use them as a springboard to re-energise or relaunch than outrightly blame some nebulous, far-fetched conspiracy theory.
Such people obviously are not initiated in or averse to scenario planning. Scenario planning involves the recognition that many factors can combine in complex ways to create sometime surprising futures or outcomes.
Analysts without academic bias —that is, those who don’t allow their beliefs to shape their research — select scenario features that are both possible and uncomfortable.
Scenario planning helps policymakers to anticipate hidden weaknesses and inflexibilities in organisations and methods.
When disclosed in advance, even years in advance, these weaknesses can be avoided or their impacts reduced more effectively than if similar real-life problems were considered under pressure from of an emergency. Are those parties prepared if Mugabe calls a snap election now?
The MPOI survey serves as a scenario planning tool for all political parties, particularly those it rated as having 0% support as long as they avoid straight-line thinking — and being angry with the wrong person.
●Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: email@example.com