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Cowdray Park and the myth of irrational voting

27 Aug 2023 at 09:58hrs | Views
Galatians 3 verse 1: "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified." The verse is a rebuke to the Galatians for having embraced doctrines that tended to subvert the gospel of the Redeemer. The false apostles had endeavoured to introduce another doctrine among the Galatians. The verse is thus a warning against being led blindly and unresistingly to one's own destruction.

The strong words from the Bible, without using them literally to our fellow countrymen, aptly personify what played out in some wards and constituencies in last week's Zimbabwe general elections. Pedzisayi "Scott" Sakupwanya, a successful businessman and philanthropist of note, lost in Mabvuku in Harare after implementing life-changing developmental projects.

In Bulawayo, Raj Modi, another successful businessman and philanthropist lost the Bulawayo South constituency and so did Professor Mthuli Ncube in Cowdray Park. Professor Ncube had already implemented sound development in terms of roads construction, water provision, sewer reticulation, education, Information Communication Technology and health provision, among others. Next door in the Emakhandeni/Luveve constituency, through his Brian Samuriwo Foundation, Samuriwo had begun to change the lives of the elderly and vulnerable. The list goes on and on, and speaks to what political commentators refer to as irrational voting. This happens when voters shun candidates or political parties with proven capacity to deliver.

Gleb Tsipursky in the article, The Myth of the Irrational Voter, says voters can be irrational. This is because they are moved by emotions, not facts. Their biases cause them to make bad political decisions.

"Yes, research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and behavioural economics shows that we have a number of thinking errors that can cause us to make irrational decisions. We tend to think of ourselves as rational creatures who form our opinions based on logical facts. In reality, our emotions play a much larger role in influencing our beliefs than we intuitively perceive."
A political analysis, Mr Teddy Ncube said comprehensive analysis reveals that emotions, cognitive biases, personal interests, social pressures, and limited access to reliable information contribute to "irrational voting".

"Emotions play a significant role in decision-making, and voters often rely on their gut feelings rather than rational analysis. Candidates who can effectively evoke positive emotions, such as hope or fear, may sway voters towards irrational choices. Moreover, individuals may be more likely to support candidates who align with their values and beliefs, even if their policies may not be in their best interest. Cognitive biases further contribute to irrational voting decisions. Confirmation bias, for instance, leads individuals to seek out and interpret information that confirms their existing beliefs while disregarding contradictory evidence. The halo effect, on the other hand, causes voters to attribute positive qualities to a candidate based on a single favourable characteristic, overshadowing other aspects that should be considered," said Mr Ncube.

He added that personal interests and social pressures can also cloud rational judgment. "Social pressures exert a significant influence on voter behaviour as well. Individuals may feel compelled to conform to the opinions of their social groups, even if those opinions are based on misinformation or faulty reasoning. This conformity can lead to irrational choices, as voters may prioritise maintaining social harmony over critically evaluating candidates and their policies."

Mr Ncube added that irrational choices can be influenced by lack of reliable information as "misinformation, propaganda, and the spread of false narratives can all distort perceptions and lead to irrational voting decisions."

An academic and political commentator, Mr Methuseli Moyo, said what happened to Prof Ncube reminded him of the predicament that the late national hero Sikhanyiso Ndlovu faced at the turn of the new millennium in Mpopoma where he had initiated a lot of developmental projects as a sitting Member of Parliament. Tshinga Dube (Retired colonel) also faced rejection in Makokoba yet he had come up with a clear development agenda. The trend is evident in urban areas where voters tend to follow the opposition, despite persistent poor service delivery from opposition-run councils.

"Politics operates in waves. Good, strong candidates like Professor Mthuli Ncube got swept by the wave. Waves are irrational. The politics of cities is about a lot of things, chief among them jobs and cost of living. These supersede any other considerations. Tough luck for Mthuli. He did more than needed to win, but he still lost," said Mr Moyo.

Writing on social media, former cabinet minister Professor Jonathan Moyo said the people of Cowdray Park had missed an opportunity to elect a Member of Parliament who was going to bring about sound development. He said the politics of "right jacket" had won over the politics of the "right candidate", yet that approach has not brought about development to Bulawayo since the opposition started to win the urban vote in 2000.

"Meanwhile, the usual quarters are celebrating that, as has been the case in Bulawayo since 2000, their "right jacket" has won over the "right candidate" in Cowdray (Park). I hope they are wrong but if they are, let it be. But make no mistake about it, if that's what it is, then it would be another lost five years, and another lost opportunity for real development. Truth be told, no "right jacket" has developed Bulawayo or Matabeleland or any other place in Zimbabwe over the last 23 years in particular and in general over the last 43 years since independence. It's the candidate, not the jacket that matters!" he said last Thursday as social media started to discuss the unfolding election results.

The Second Republic, led by President Mnangagwa, has invested heavily in developmental projects across the country, but it would seem in some areas, take Binga for instance where a lot of attention was put, such hard work has gone unnoticed by the majority of voters. Perhaps the consolation for Zanu-PF is that the margins were small, with huge numbers having voted for the party as well.

Several scholars have produced articles on the "rational/irrational voter, trying to explain how people who vote under the influence of false beliefs ultimately end up with the leadership that delivers lousy results or does not delivery at all.

"Whenever an election looms, voters must spend months wrestling with policies, politicians, and ideologies. As voting day arrives, it's time for some rational calculations at the ballot box. Or is it? We may not be as in control of our own vote as we like to think, according to many psychologists. Education, healthcare, and the economy all matter, but voter choices can also be swayed by factors ranging from how easily disgusted and fearful people are, to how they react to the weather and sports results," wrote Zarria Govez on an online blog.

Nonetheless, despite the election outcome, Cowdray Park is on the road to become a blueprint for urban leadership with Prof Ncube targeting to make it a smart city. In fact, Government plans to make the constituency "self-reliant" with major social and economic services made available, as opposed to residents traveling to the city centre.

Source - The Sunday News
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