After reading the Afro-barometer new survey which says President Emmerson Mnangagwa is leading his rival opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa by 8%, while an overwhelming majority (85%) says government has performed badly, some Zimbabweans found this irrational – understandably so.

How can Mnangagwa be more popular than Chamisa, whose support is said to have declined by 6%, when his government is doing so badly in the eyes of potential voters, they ask.

Even political analysts such as Dr Phillan Zamchiya found this to be a “paradox”.
“Zanu PF and Mnangagwa’s lead partly remains a paradox though because the survey shows that most people are not happy,”
Zamchiya wrote yesterday.

“A majority of respondents (65%) say the country is going in the wrong direction; a large majority (69%) say the economy is bad and 62% say the living conditions are bad and this constitutes an equal proportion from both the urban and rural areas.”

However, Zamchiya goes on to explain the “paradox” saying:
“First is that some people do not believe that an election under the current authoritarian environment can result in a change of government. From the survey, a majority, 54% of respondents, do not believe that an election can remove the badly performing Zanu PF leaders.

“Second, a significant number, 49% of respondents, believe the announced results will not reflect the counted votes.

“It reminds me of Joseph Stalin’s attributed statement that ‘it’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes’.

“Third, about six in 10 (59%) fear that they will become victims of political violence during elections. Consequently, some people vote to ensure ‘peace’ in communities given that 50% of respondents said past elections have led to violence in their neighbourhood.

“This shows us that without the needed political and democratising reforms, citizens can see elections as a mere ritual that fail to express the people’s will.

“Fourth, the bad performance by Zanu PF does not automatically lead to the transfer of votes to CCC. The CCC has to convince the electorate that it has better socio-economic policies, a more democratic culture and the stamina to govern. Rehashing Zanu PF’s naked failures is not enough.”

Professor Byran Caplan:

In 2001, American professor of economics at George Mason University and New York Times bestselling author, Byran Caplan, wrote a groundbreaking book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, named “the best political book of the year” by the New York Times.

In his seminal work, Caplan coins the term “rational irrationality”,
which sounds like an oxymoron, explaining why people make irrational voting choices that end up rationalised as rational.

Caplan says “people tailor their degree of rationality at the costs of error”.

What this means is when there is a low threshold of personal cost in making a certain decision, say during elections and voting, people will stop asking questions and allow themselves to make an irrational choice.

Holding a particular political belief generally has no material cost for individuals who holds it.
His or her own actions, alone, will never determine the outcome of any election.

An average voter usually has the impression that their individual vote doesn’t matter.
Thus, people vote based on party, a single issue, or they get swayed by the rhetoric of one candidate or another.

Essentially their voting choices are not always guided by rationality; driven by logic and reason.

People may vote irrationally driven by following parties, campaign rhetoric or a particular candidate.
This produces what is now called rational irrationality.

The Afro-barometer survey is a good example of a poll whose findings on the presidential and parliamentary elections are based on rational irrationality.

Some voters will continue to hold certain beliefs and make choices they want in an election despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary showing their choice is irrational. They will rationalise their irrationality, hence Caplan’s rational irrationality.

Rational ignorance

Rational irrationality resonates with rational ignorance which basically means deliberately refraining from seeking or acquiring knowledge when the supposed cost of educating oneself on an issue exceeds the expected potential benefit which that knowledge would provide.

In that case, the individual feels justified to remain ignorant as they would spend more seeking that knowledge than benefitting from it – a cost-benefit-analysis approach to education.
This is rational ignorance similar to rational irrationality in voting. The Afro-barometer survey speaks to this.