No political party would have been particularly pleased by the release of the Afrobarometer's survey of party support in March. Swapo scored 51 percent support from the 1,200 respondents interviewed countrywide last November - lower than its electoral performances of 2004 and 1999 (both in the region of 76 percent) and ten points down on its performance in the 2006 Afrobarometer survey. But then the opposition could hardly take heart either. The RDP was the best opposition performer with 9 percent - not in keeping with their own predictions of over 20 percent - but much better than the other opposition parties. The DTA's gradual collapse continued with its level of support now at 4 percent, while the Congress of Democrats, following five years of self-immolation, is not surprisingly down to 3 percent. Nudo hangs in there with 3 percent, while the United Democratic Front had only 2 percent - perhaps reflecting its own recent inner party and tribal conflicts. The All People's Party came in at 2 percent, while the RP was down to 1 percent indicating it might struggle to keep its sole seat in the National Assembly.
What has to be borne in mind when looking at these results is that nearly a quarter of those surveyed either did not answer, said they were undecided, or said they would not vote. It's possible these votes could be 'up for grabs' (or at least the 7 percent who said they were undecided) but it is difficult to know in Namibia's case if the majority are really floating voters. It could be that a substantial number are Swapo voters who were suspicious of a survey carried by a non-governmental organisation (imperialist agents according to the Swapo Youth League) or it could be that many were opposition sympathisers who suspected that the surveyors were from the government and that the information might be misused.
Swapo's level may be artificially low at 51 percent since on most counts government (or the Swapo Party government as it is called by ruling party politicians these days) scores much better in the Afrobarometer.
What we do know from the age breakdown of the Afrobarometer is that younger voters feel less attached to parties and less interested in public affairs altogether. Only 44 percent of those aged 18-34 said they would vote for the ruling party, lower than the party's national average of 51 percent. When asked which party they felt close to, 38 percent of the 18-24 age group said they identified with Swapo as compared to 6 percent for the RDP (the highest opposition party). So while Swapo's hold is looser among the younger generations, no opposition party is moving in to fill the gap. It would seem that the indecisiveness about party loyalty is greater among younger people, including the so-called 'born free' generation. But they are also increasingly apolitical. When asked about their interest in public affairs, a third of the 18-24 group said they had no interest at all.
Still, the fact that there are more uncommitted voters out there should be an incentive for all the parties to work harder and to especially appeal to the youth vote. The indications are that ethnic parties like Nudo and UDF and those associated with pre-independence politics like the DTA appeal more to the older, rural-based voters. A section of the urban youth vote may be within RDP's grasp, but so far it has shown little sign of gearing its campaign at younger voters. Swapo, while receiving more solid support from the older, rural electorate, has already shown that is prepared to adopt new tactics, such as using Namibia's music stars, to get through to the 18 to 34 group.
The Afrobarometer is the only public opinion survey of its kind in Namibia. According to the statisticians behind it, the survey has a 3 percent margin of error and a confidence level of 95 percent. So, when it comes to working out what is happening in terms of political support between elections, this is as good or as accurate as it gets. The lack of regular public opinion surveys in Namibia probably results in interviewees being more cautious and being reluctant to answer some questions especially on political sympathies. But still, it provides some useful information for the parties about how they can focus their efforts and concentrate their resources in the run up to the 2009 Presidential and National Assembly elections. The message would seem to be that there are some floating voters out there if you are prepared to work hard enough to get them.
The full results of the Afrobarometer public opinion survey in Namibia are available at http://www.ippr.org.na
This article originally appeared in the April 2009 edition of Insight Namibia magazine