Working Paper Number: 422
Author: Jeremy Seekings
Data on the attitudes of Zambian voters from seven Afrobarometer surveys between 1999 and 2017 confirms the big shifts in partisan and electoral politics in Zambia over this period. Shifts in voters’ assessments of the president and political parties correspond to the trends shown in actual election results, with the decline of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), the rise of the Patriotic Front (PF) and the resurgence of the United Party for National Development (UPND). Ethnicity plays an important role in partisan preferences. Part of this might simply be due to variation in voters’ evaluations of the performance of the political parties and president, but ethnicity is not a simple proxy for these evaluations. As of 2017, both the PF and UPND appear to have a core ethnic support base comprising about 30 percent of the electorate each. The PF seems to retain the support of most of its core (Bemba-speaking) support base despite significant dissatisfaction with the PF government’s performance. The UPND seems to have failed to build support among dissatisfied voters outside of its core ethnic support base (among Lozi, Tonga and allied groups). Ethnicity appears to have become more important over time. Afrobarometer survey data do not reveal, however, precisely how ethnicity ‘works’ politically.